saavedra77: Al Swearingen from Deadwood says "I'm in fuckin' wonderment." (wonderment)
[personal profile] saavedra77
I've always been impressed by the ease with which William Kennedy's prose moves from persuasively colloquial and naturalistic dialogue to poetic cadence. His ear for period argot is pitch-perfect, but the narrative frame belongs to a completely different--although complimentary--register. Kennedy's voice openly comments on character, moment, and action, conveying an ironic affection for spiritual outlaws: gamblers, gangsters, drunks, derelicts, and machine politicians. His attitude toward the past (and the past is what Kennedy is all about, but with a sense of humor and direction that, say, Faulkner altogether lacked) is appreciative, not nostalgic, but his sympathy for old Albany's devils, rakes, and dropouts is undeniable.

"Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" turns that ironic, indulgent gaze on a pool shark, an energetically shrewd operator whose "native arrogance" inspires: "Men like Billy Phelan, forged in the brass of Broadway, send, in the time of their splendor, telegraphic statements of mission: I you bums, am a winner. And that message, however devoid of Christ-like other-cheekery, dooms the faint-hearted Scottys of the night, who must sludge along, never knowing how it feels to leave the spillover there on the floor, more where that came from pal. Leave it for the sweeps."

But the action is beyond the game here, or in a different one, the self-assured winner's confrontation with something else, something uncomfortably close, and getting closer. The novel, and Billy, here provide a counterpoint to the character, themes and energy of the succeeding novel, the widely-admired "Ironweed". And of all Kennedy's novels, these two are the most intimately, indissolubly linked. I'd argue that you can't fully appreciate either without the other. And I highly recommend both.
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saavedra77: Back to the byte mines ... (Default)
Anthony Diaz

December 2014

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