Albany Weed: William Kennedy

My knowledge of William Kennedy is admittedly limited. Like many authors that I have come to read much of, I found him through another writer, Hunter S. Thompson. From what I recollect from my far more extensive Thompson readings, they were friends and Kennedy is mentioned at the back of many of Hunter Thompson’s works in the “Honor Roll;” people who had passed the judgement of Hunter Thompson, who had been deemed if not good, then at least respected.

Which was enough to get me to pick up “Ironweed,” Kennedy’s most honored and highly regarded work about the return of Francis Phelan to his home in Albany, 13 years after a tragic accident took the life of his child. Came across this blog at Littoral that talks about the work (and Kennedy’s appearance at a seminar) far more thoroughly and eloquently than I.

Kennedy’s writing in “Ironweed” was free and his gift for dialogue was undeniable. From “Legs,” the second book of Kennedy’s as I progressed through his Albany Cycle in reverse:

“Heh,” said Morrie. “What’d he say?”
“Ah, a few things.”
“Nothing good, bet your ass on that, the son-of-a-bitch.”
“It wasn’t exactly flattering, but he was interested.”
“Who’s that?” Billy asked, looking up from the newspaper.
“My old man,” Morrie said.
“He’s a son-of-a-bitch?”
“In spades.”
“What’d he do?”
“Nothing. He’s just a son-of-a-bitch. Always has been.”

the language is a bit coarse at times, reflecting the characters who peopled his novels: every day folks largely from rough backgrounds and relatively small towns. While Albany isn’t exactly the backwords of Missouri, it is also isn’t the streets or New York.  Reading Kennedy is a picture of similar towns across America. You can put faces and voices to the characters and draw them into your own world.

As I said, my actual knowledge of Kennedy is scant but of the four novels I’ve read (“Ironweed,” “Billy Phelen’s Greatest Game,” “Legs,” and “Very Old Bones”),  but my respect for his abilities are great. He’s also written numerous works of criticism, two plays, two childrens books and three other novels. He’s a writer of tremendous talent and I encourage everyone to give him a shot. Some other links that might be helpful:

Wired for Books Audio Interview of William Kennedy

Wikipedia Entry

NY State Writers Institute Biography of William Kennedy

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