Book Review: Ironweed, by William Kennedy

Ironweed Ironweed: A novel


Ironweed, by William Kennedy, is one of the Albany Novels, so called because they take place in Albany, New York. The book is about a bum named Francis Phelan, and his bum friends trying to survive as homeless bums in the winter in upstate New York, i.e., one cold goddamn place. I suggest wearing a sweater while you read this, even if you’re at the beach, because the writing is so good, and the description of the cold so biting, that you will feel it.

Francis had a family, a wife and kids, but booze got the best of him, and he ended up on the streets starving and freezing his ass off. All of his bum friends are on the street for the same reason. His friend Helen, for example, is a talented singer, but she is a fucking drunk and could
not, apparently, hold a gig. There is a shelter at which they can stay, but they have to be sober. Ironic—they are out in the street in the first place because they are drunks, but the Christian shelter won’t take them because they are drunks. I wonder what part of the Bible that theory is based upon.

In one scene he goes back to his house to see his wife and kids, and the woman asks him what he needs. He needs a shoelace. That’s all, just a shoelace. His socks are full of holes, his shoes are shot, he’s fucking starving, dressed in rags, sleeping in the streets, and the son of a bitch needs a shoelace. Good stuff.

This is Man Lit at its best. The writing is brilliant and interesting, and the story compelling. It is a must read for The Literary Man.

Click here to purchase Ironweed from Amazon.

Ironweed is also a movie staring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Click here to buy.