Saturday, January 5, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #92

Title: Ironweed
Author: William Kennedy
Judgin' The Book By Its Cover: Not bad-- I can dig the retro feel of the b&w photo.

Thoughts: This was a very moving story, set in the working-class Irish neighborhoods of Albany during a two-day span (Halloween and All Saints' Day). Francis, a bum, is haunted by the ghosts of his bloody and strange past as he struggles to understand the choices that he's made and the life that he's living. A recent encounter with the son he abandoned decades earlier causes him to reevaluate his history and try to understand who he is and what has made him the person that he is, a violent man who abandoned a family that he loved dearly. I particulary love when Francis realizes that his estranged wife has been quietly extending grace to him for years, and how that knowledge motivates him to reexamine himself-- it's pretty amazing. I also liked Kennedy's use of magical realism-- it's really cool to see the characters from Francis' past reappear to guide him and help him make sense of the past, but the device isn't used in an abrasive or unnatural way. I definitely recommend this book-- it is a very warm and humanizing portrait of a man and a subculture that are difficult to understand and connect with. Good stuff!

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