Year Published: 1983
First sentence: Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.
I have no idea why, but I didn't want to like this book. It could be that it's the newest book on The List, and that I think that's bullshit, and surely to God there was at least one awesome book written in the 1990s, ffs. It could be that I resented finding it in the library of the Catholic college on campus. Maybe it was the cover, or the title. But when I opened it, I was prepared to dislike it. And so its failure was even more colossal. The supposed 92nd best book of the 20th century should be able to change any initial impression of mine. I have, after all, far too little taste to pretend that I could dislike any of these "great novels" simply because I decide that I want to.
Francis Phelan is our sturdy-stemmed ironweed, a bum who played ball, accidentally killed his infant son, and has basically a really murky past involving deaths and transience and God knows what else. I'm not quite clear on the actual chronology of his life, but at the time when the book is set, a couple of days in late 1938, he's somewhere in his 50s. He's been hanging around with a woman named Helen for around a decade, and he hasn't seen his wife and children in about a billion years or so. Basically the book goes over Francis' history, sexual and otherwise, and Helen's, too, concentrating on lives, and how they come to be wrecked, and how they end.
From my experience with The Sheltering Sky, I can say I have very little patience for certain treatments of death in fiction (mainly the ones where the author seems to be imposing his or her own views about the hereafter on the narrative), and Ironweed is unfortunately another good example of that. There was also the matter of my having a very poor grasp of Francis' character, so that in one scene he was across the room about to kick someone in the face before I realized he was angry.
The strongest part of the book is when Francis goes home to visit his family. Whereas the rest of it is sort of flat, the bit with his family is sharp and actually excellent. I suppose it's always possible that that was intentional, but it certainly wasn't any fun for me.
I haven't really touched on the matter of Albany because I don't get what the big deal is. I didn't really get an overwhelming sense of "PLACE" from this novel. Can anyone tell me what I'm missing?
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His lesson to Francis was this: that life is full of caprice and missed connections, that thievery is wrong, especially if you get caught, that even Italians cannot outrun bullets, that a proffered hand in a moment of need is a beautiful thing.
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Just because you're drunk don't mean you ain't cold.
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But priests, Helen, have nothing whatsoever to do with brassieres and kissing, and you should be ashamed to have put them all in the same thought.
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Katrina, I will love you forever.
However, something has come up.
- - - - -Rating: 1/3 (don't bother)