Christopher MacMillan's Reviews > Ironweed

Ironweed by William Kennedy
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Feb 14, 12

bookshelves: pulitzer-prize-winners-and-nominees
Read from October 06 to December 22, 2011

This was a short, dense little novel, full of both melancholy and horror, of both shattered dreams and realized nightmares. But beneath the all of the gloom and doom, lies a tiny ray of hope for these characters (the ones still alive by the book's end, at any rate), and overall, this managed to keep me not only interested, but fascinated.

Ironweed tells the story of Francis, an alcoholic hobo who is returning to Albany, New York for the first time in 22 years; for the first time, that is, since he drunkenly dropped and killed his infant son, and subsequently fled his home, wife, and other children out of guilt over his actions. During the cold, bitter weekend that he's in town, Francis decides that he must finally face the demons that have haunted his every waking minute (and sleepless night) for over two decades, and he tries to summon up the nerve to return home and knock on his wife's door. In the meantime, we see him struggle with alcohol, starvation, poverty, the freezing temperatures, fights with other hobos, his schizophrenic girlfriend, a few ghosts who pay him sporadic visits, and most of all, his memories from a life which was full of promise, but which is now ruined beyond repair.

This novel, while tiny, is certainly not easy to breeze through. Not only is it bleak, full of death, dying, and characters who have all lived miserable lives, but Kennedy also dabbles in a bit of surrealism and stream-of-conciousness, both of which frequently blur the lines of reality, making certain passages necessary to read and re-read in order to comprehend, and other sentences - indeed, sometimes full paragraphs - are just a lost cause altogether to make literal sense out of. Nonetheless, this is a simmering, thought-provoking novel, and when the prose gets too abstract, it's best to just go with the flow (there's so much symbolism, subtext, and hallucinations within the pages of this book that I'm sure only William Kennedy himself knows what's going on at all times).
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