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(The Albany Cycle #3)

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  14,775 ratings  ·  643 reviews
Winner of The Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the third in Kennedy's Albany cycle, Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger, and full-time bum with the gift of gab, has hit bottom. Years earlier he'd left Albany after he dropped his infant son accidentally, and the boy died. Now, in 1938
Paperback, 227 pages
Published February 7th 1984 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1983)
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B. R. Reed No, you do not. It is a stand alone book. However, it certainly caused me to read the rest of the Albany cycle of books. I really enjoyed Billy…moreNo, you do not. It is a stand alone book. However, it certainly caused me to read the rest of the Albany cycle of books. I really enjoyed Billy Phelan's Greatest Game and I read The Red Corsage earlier this year.(less)

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3.87  · 
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 ·  14,775 ratings  ·  643 reviews

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Treasure of the Rubbermaids 19: Big Rock Candy Mountain

The on-going discoveries of priceless books and comics found in a stack of Rubbermaid containers previously stored and forgotten at my parent’s house and untouched for almost 20 years. Thanks to my father dumping them back on me, I now spend my spare time unearthing lost treasures from their plastic depths.

Francis Phelan is living the romantic life of a hobo during the Great Depression. Drifting from town to town by hopping trains and with n
David J.
Mar 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loved the writing in "A River Runs Through It"
“The dead, they all got eyes.”

I wanted to hate this book. Portions of it are simply offensive. Those portions, however, are significantly outweighed by Kennedy’s ability to create beautiful prose out of objectionable material. There are, no doubt, pages of this book that read like poetry.

The first chapter is a compelling introduction to a character that begs for your revulsion, receiving instead your compassion. Francis Phelan is a bum, having left his wife and children over twenty years ago be
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

“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 ritu
Betsy Robinson
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t particularly like being around drunks, nor do I enjoy reading about them. But William Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a down-and-out ex-baseball player, Francis, who sees dead people and is dedicated to his own pain and a life spent running from it, and his cadre of drunks, including his girl Helen, a former musician, is so finely and freely well-written, sometimes funny, and authentic that I read it slowly with pleasure as well as pain.
. . . this drunk was not dead, not dy
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is early Christmas morning before my family has awakened and I’m warming myself by a nice radiator with all the modern comforts of a home and all my true needs basically covered. Not so the character of Francis Phelan, who returns to Albany New York in 1937 after 22 years bumming on the road. He tells this tale, the 3rd in the Albany series that I’ve read in the last 3 years, with intricate detail about the history, people and physical geography of a time and place. This is a tale about homec ...more
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Francis Phelan, a bum day laboring in an Albany cemetery, inadvertently stumbles upon his baby son's grave. The same son who slipped through Francis' fingers years ago. Six feet below, the child stirs and decides that Francis' path to redemption and self forgiveness is about to begin. This begins the brilliantly written tale of Francis and his hobo girlfriend Helen. They spend most of their time trying to find shelter, money, and drink. But Francis' past is always calling. Evocative imagery, poe ...more
John David
Though it’s just been a few months since I read this wonderful book, I find myself barely able to remember what actually happened in it. I do remember actually laying in bed at night and crying during several passages, though, and thinking that it was one of the best things that I had read in a long time. The fiction that I’ve been randomly pulling off my shelves has been really good to me this year.

This is part of William Kennedy’s multi-volume Albany Trilogy, which would now be better-named th
Apr 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I made a decision a few weeks ago that I would read all the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction, beginning in the year I was born (1984) and continuing through the present. I always know what's next, the mix of authors and material is varied, and I will finally get around to reading some things I know I should have gotten to long ago. Ironweed, as you may have figured out, was the 1984 winner.

In it, Kennedy tells the story of a bum who was once a well liked ball-player and family man but lost eve
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some time ago, a man in our area took his little boy deer hunting on a cold winter morning. The boy must have been about 4 years old. He had fallen asleep and was secured into his car seat when the dad left for a while to go deer spotting. When he got back, the boy was gone. He was found sometime later, not too far from the truck, frozen to death. I can only imagine the grief this poor man must have experienced. On top of that, he was charged with negligent homicide. On the morning of his arraig ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is just like a Tom Waits song. The prose is lovely and the characters are down and out. It is the story of Francis Phelan, an alcoholic bum who returns to his hometown, Albany, in 1938. There he meets up with his companion of many years, Helen, another alcoholic drifter. In Albany, Francis ends up confronting the ghosts of his past, his guilt, remorse, and sorrow. Kennedy gives Francis and Helen's brokenness a warmth and beauty completely free of judgement and s ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 27.04.2018
Genre: novel
Rating: B
Redemption: The ghost of Francis’ infant son tells his father that he
must perform acts (of kindness) to exorcise his demons.
Pulitzer Prize Fiction 1984

Seattle Al
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a disclaimer: when I finished this book, I discovered it was the last in a trilogy. I have not read the two preceding works. Nonetheless, here's my reaction to it as a stand-alone novel.
The book is difficult to characterize because the main character both engages and repels. He comes from an Irish-American, Catholic, working-class family and neighborhood in Albany, NY, in the early decades of the 20th century. He is haunted by his past; he caused several deaths--some intentionally, some not.
Oct 27, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: award-winners
The prose of this book is so gorgeous I could almost overlook that it's about a drunk, violent, nasty bum, his bum buddies, and their enablers. Almost.

Maybe there wasn't enough background to make the characters sympathetic? It's a really short book and I feel like some important parts were missing, or maybe they were alluded to and I'm not bright enough to pick up on them? Why was this bum so appealing to everyone? Why should I give a shit about him? That's what's missing.

I got all excited in t
Trenton Judson
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was such an enjoyable read. I am finally deprogramming from all the University horseshit and I got entangled in this great story. Sometimes, I think that people in the English profession actually hate books, or at least love to hate them. I'm so tired of that with books, so many people act like they are dissecting a frog when the review these books, there is no passion and I find that disheartening. Where are the muck and the mud and the beauty? Well, I'll tell you, they are in this book. S ...more
Mar 15, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pullitzer
What an ordeal. The quality of the writing is undoubtedly Pulitzer worthy, theres no denying that. I think i must be somewhat of a snob however, I just dont enjoy reading about down and outs and people at the end of the road, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Give me a bit of escapism any day over a gritty dirge of a book, depsite its literary merits. It does make you think, and in some ways it good to see life from way over the other side of the tracks, to think that these people are all ...more
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: literary and noir fans
Recommended to Ed by: A Pulitizer Prize winner
When I was a kid, I used to see the ironweed blooming along the creeks and edges of fields. Many years later, I saw a novel by the same name had won the Pulitzer Prize. Now I finally got around to reading it, and I am glad I did. Francis "Fran" Phelan is an ex-ballplayer (a third baseman for the Washington Senators, my favorite team). Francis dropped his baby boy Gerald on his head and killed him twenty-two years ago, and left home in great sorrow and regret. Francis calls himself a bum, though ...more
Jennifer Ochoa
The novel is almost picaresque. Comedic, but in a wincing way (sometimes). Sad, but not melodramatic even though it certainly could have gone that direction many times. There were some really beautiful lines here and there. I loved the juxtaposition of those words with the world of "the bum": anything but beautiful. There is a lot of juxtaposition in this novel and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much. It's hard to pull off a novel that can be funny, depressing, hopeful, horrifying, bittersw ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read Ironweed over 30 years ago; I'm glad I read it again with more years under my belt--because age has allowed me to understand and possibly empathize with Francis, the damaged protagonist of this gritty novel. The Depression-era setting is bleak and squalid. Francis lives violently. He sees ghosts from his past. He goes home. He takes care of Helen. But does he forgive himself for the accident that killed his infant son? The ethereal brutality of Kennedy's novel is striking--a precurs ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Finally we sold our blood and drank the money."

Jesus. Katie bar the door. Reading this was like chain smoking three packs of Camels, passing out drunk and waking up to nightmare memories and cold coffee spiked with dead dandelions and pea gravel. Pretty. Fucking. Gritty.
Joey Gold
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company."
-Mark Twain

"Ironweed" is chilly, bloody, thrilling, darkly-comic; and far from a crime novel. William Kennedy radiates those adjectives seemingly without any intention to do so. There aren't any mysteries, villains in a traditional sense (and DEFINITELY no heroes) and the action, even when it's colored in whiskey and guts, swarms on in a somewhat mellow, true-to-life pace, an understated rhythm that mimics earth's true tempo. A clock doesn't t
Martin Jones
Ironweed Review

Ironweed is the story of Francis Phelan, a homeless man trying to survive on the streets of the American city of Albany during the Great Depression. Francis recalls Gerald, the baby son he accidentally dropped, who died of his injuries. Memories of three other men Francis killed during his life take on a physical reality. They come back as hallucinations to chat about life and matters arising.

A lot of the book consists of rambling conversations between Francis and other people ar
Jan 11, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stephen by: it is on my all important winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
I can add another Pulitzer Prize winner to my list of READ PULITZER PRIZES. I may feel differently about this book later, but as of today I can give it three stars. It is a powerful book with a powerful message, kind of a "live and let live" philosophy in that I, Francis Phelan, have fucked up my life royally and all I have is my grief, so don't take that away from me. It is a very sad story as well, with portions of poignancy that make you want to grab Francis and tell him that his family is fo ...more
The Bookish Hooker
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Francis Phelan is one of those characters in literature that you really should dislike but you can't help feeling sympathy and compassion for him and his plight. He's simply a bum. He's spent his life running from his problems, but remains likable. He's taken lives, including his son's through an accident, he's shirked his responsibilities with his family by abandoning them, and he's ran away from his problems instead of facing them head on. He's exchanged all of that for a life of poverty, cold ...more
I usually love books about the down and out, and this book is full of some very haunted, guilty and broken people, but it all feels just a bit too melodramatic and humorless for its own good. And that isn't helped by Kennedy, who is a very gifted prose stylist, but just can't seem to settle on what style or perspective he's going to tackle these people's misery from. That kind of bouncing around isn't necessarily a bad thing (hell, Malcolm Lowry makes it work great), but it seems like he's just ...more
Corey Edwards
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Stunning. Absorbing. Heartbreaking. Easily the best novel I've read in years. Each book in Kennedy's Albany Trilogy is worth your attention but the final novel, Ironweed, is the tour de force that will leave you at once thoughtful, enriched, and somber. Guess them Pulitzer Prize folks know their game, alright.
Jun 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Damn I loved the dialogue in this book. I wish it was a play instead. He gets everything in the words of the bums. Hey, bum: When they are drunk, when they are funny, when they are clever, and when they are dying and sad.

The prose was overstated for a bum book, but I grew to love it too. In fact, sometimes when reading this the mental, physical, and spiritual suffering of the characters was unbearable, it really hurt - but then it is completely compensated by joy a few pages later when an insig
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fucking depressing. But very albany.
Zack Sheehan
Iron weed was an odd book to say the least and is also a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The author is William Kennedy, a resident of Albany, New York which happens to be the state it takes place in. The story begins with a narrator talking about Francis Phelan, the main character and POV of this book how talks with dead people at their grave. It elaborates on how his parents and his infant son are dead. We also meet another character named Rudy. They both work at the graveyard and do whatever wo ...more
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful tale of a man haunted by his own guilt and the ghosts of his past. Set during the Depression in Albany, "Ironweed" is the story of Francis Phelan, currently a 58-year old bum who turns violent when drunk, but who was formerly a talented baseball player for the Washington Senators. Kennedy shows how Francis's default urge is one of flight, from family, responsibility, and himself. When he was 21, he killed a scab during a trolley strike. Years later, he flees his family again after trag ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer, 2019
The book is unique, compelling and something I think everyone should read. It makes you look at yourself as a reader, often judgmental and harsh and then makes you reconsider your views.

Do you feel empathetic towards a man who accidentally killed his 13 days old son? Maybe. Can you forgive him for walking out on his family and 2 other kids? Maybe not. What if he was damaged, having witnessed his father being killed on a railway line? Poor thing. What if he gets the woman he hangs out with compro
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William Joseph Kennedy is an American writer and journalist born and raised in Albany, New York. Many of his novels feature the interaction of members of the fictional Irish-American Phelan family, and make use of incidents of Albany's history and the supernatural.

Kennedy's works include The Ink Truck (1969), Legs (1975), Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978), Ironweed (1983, winner of 1984 Pulitze

Other books in the series

The Albany Cycle (8 books)
  • Legs
  • Billy Phelan's Greatest Game
  • Quinn's Book
  • Very Old Bones
  • The Flaming Corsage
  • Roscoe
  • Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes
“Love, is always insufficient, always a lie. Love, you are the clean shit of my soul. Stupid love, silly love. ” 13 likes
“. . . and what if I did drink too much? Whose business is that? Who knows how much I didn't drink?” 8 likes
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