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Roscoe by William Kennedy




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Only a mature writer could have produced as deep and fine a character and novel as Roscoe. Tangled relationships, political fixes, and love and loss fill the pages of the latest William Kennedy novel in the Albany series. There’s ample wisdom to consider, including, “Roscoe decided long ago that only a bet on the impossible makes sense. It is an art of faith and courage requiring an irrational leap over reason. A man wins simply by making such a bet.” When it comes to description and images, Kennedy shines:

“As he walked to his car, Roscoe saw a crow, blacker and larger than crows he had known, and female, which he deduced after she landed on an upper branch of an oak tree and was immediately set upon by another large, black crow, which mounted her; and they lay sideways on the branch and copulated. Roscoe stopped the car to watch and became convinced that the female crow was smiling. Roscoe might have taken this to be a good omen, but it was too proximate to his kiss, the crows were black as sin, and they were crows enthralled by passion. They were the crows of fornication.
What did you expect, Roscoe, the bluebirds of happiness?”

In addition to capturing the post-World War II attitudes and concerns, Roscoe connects back to World War I and the generational issues by which soldiers in each war identify themselves. Here’s a mood scene at the beginning of a chapter:

“There is nothing like the back room of a dimly lit bar on a summer afternoon when the heat is smothering the city’s life; and so Roscoe has come to a half-walled private corner in Mike Quinlan’s dark dungeon of drink to triumph over this unseasonable heat, a ninety-eight-degree day when summer should be spent. A cold beer in a short glass, and then another, cures the heat in Roscoe’s heart, and the sweat of the glass cools the palm of his hand. Slowly the sweet placenta overgrows his brain, and the afternoon moves weightlessly along, as he waits for whatever comes next in his scheme to unleash the new Roscoe.”

Kennedy makes Albany and fascinating characters come alive in Roscoe, and each word he chooses brings us deeper into the place and the time.

Steve Hopkins, February 1, 2002


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