Monday, December 15, 2014

Ironweed by William Kennedy

3 Stars
“Katie bar the door. Too wet to plow.”
Commercial Photography

Okay, since I’m a robot that’s a bit of a fabrication. I did, however, get a little choked up and that’s pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to me bawling.

Francis has spent his entire life running . . .

“Running bases after the crack of the bat, running from accusation, running from the calumny of men and women, running from family, from bondage, from destitution of spirit through ritualistic straightenings, running ,finally, in a quest for pure flight as a fulfilling mannerism of the spirit.”

He finally decided to run for good after the accidental death of his newborn son. Francis hit rock bottom and became a vagrant. He now spends his days doing as little as possible in order to earn enough to buy himself a jug each night in a futile attempt to rid himself of the voices of ghosts from his past.

“I’m sick of you all, [is] his thought. I am sick of imagining what you became, what I might have become if I’d lived among you. I am sick of your melancholy histories, your sentimental pieties, your goddamned unchanging faces. You ain’t nothin’ more than a photograph, you goddamn spooks. You ain’t real and I ain’t gonna be at your beck and call no more. You’re all dead, and if you ain’t, you ought to be.”

I feel more than a little crappy giving a Pulitzer Prize winner a 3 Star rating, but???? It is what it is. Here’s the deal . . . The first 75 pages and the last 75 pages of Ironweed are 5 Star worthy. The writing is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen (and when you’re dealing with nothing but horrifying and revolting situations, that’s a major feat to accomplish), but the middle killed it.

You’ll notice in my synopsis I conveniently left out anything about the character “Helen.” While I found her to be a fine addition in order to add to the richness of Francis’ story (and apparently the movie version really beefed up her part being that Meryl Streep received an Oscar nod for the role)

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I felt the book went a little off the rails having a featured segment of Helen’s history (along with padding Francis’ tale even further). Even the prose changed in the middle of the book. Maybe that change was intentional and I’m just too dumb to get it, but it felt like a bunch of filler to me.

My other complaint? The dialogue. This is a book that is filled with elaborate description and imagery that really made me feel like I was experiencing everything along with Francis . . . and then the characters start talking and I was immediately yanked right back to reality because it their conversations seemed so stilted and read so false to me. The exception? The conversations Francis has with his “ghosts” – now some those were heartbreaking.

If you haven’t yet read Ironweed and are already experiencing the holiday doldrums, I recommend keeping this pushed back a bit on your to-be-read list. After all, no one wants to come to someone’s house and find not only the turkey cooking in the oven, but the host trying to stick their head in there alongside it as well.

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