I mentioned a couple days ago that I was doggedly making my way through a book that won the Pulitzer Prize and that I couldn't understand why. I kept hoping something would happen or I would recognize beautiful writing that would justify Kennedy's renown in this part of the country but it just never came about. I know Kennedy was famous for writing about Albany, NY politics and that's why I was interested. Ever since I moved to the East Coast, New York politics have bewildered me but I was drawn to reading about the topic like a moth to a flame. (Hackneyed phrase I know but I've been sick, so give me a break.)
The closest this book comes to politics is that the story is set in Albany, but it's the Albany of bums and winos and losers in 1938. It's about a man named Francis Phelan, an ex-ballplayer who has become a drunken bum, literally. He had been well known for his skill as a baseball player for a local team; he had married and fathered three children. He still loved and thought about his wife, but he had gone on the run twice, once when he killed a scab in the middle of a trolley workers' strike, and again after he dropped his baby son and the baby died.
Phelan's life has been a continual tale of violence, drunkenness, pick up work and spend the money on booze, sleeping in weeds or flophouses. I'm still depressed after finishing the book. This book tells what I assume is the end of his life although it's so hard to tell I'm not sure. He is seeing the ghosts of all the people in his life and drowning in nostalgia, so he finally uses the money he earned working on a junk wagon one day to buy a 12 1/2 lb. turkey and go to his wife's house.
His wife (apparently a saint) welcomes him home but understands when he says he can't stay. He talks to his grown son and daughter, meets his grandson, takes a bath he's needed for months, dresses in old clothes his wife had saved, but when he leaves her house, he uses a ten dollar bill his son gave him to go off the wagon and into a binge. At the end all I could say was, "Whaaa?" I just don't see the point. The New York Times had said, "Rich in plot and dramatic tension . . . almost Joycean in its variety of rhetoric." Well, maybe that's my problem. I've never been able to read James Joyce either.
Unsurprisingly, I don't recommend this book unless you are unbearably cheery and want to discover what sadness and depression are like.