“They were both questing for the behavior that was proper to their station and their unutterable dreams. They both knew intimately the etiquette, the taboos, the protocol of bums. By their talk to each other they understood that they shared a belief in the brotherhood of the desolate; yet in the scars of their eyes they confirmed that no such fraternity had ever existed, that the only brotherhood they belonged to was the one that asked the enduring question: How do I get through the next twenty minutes? They feared drys, cops, jailers, bosses, moralists, crazies, truth-tellers, and one another. They loved storytellers, liars, whores, fighters, singers, collie dogs that wagged their tails, and generous bandits. Rudy, thought Francis, he’s just a bum, but who ain’t?”—William Kennedy, Ironweed (1983)
William Kennedy was born on this date 85 years ago in the North End of Albany, a city from which he created a fictional world as great and various as John O’Hara’s Gibbsville or William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Ironweed, which won the Pulitzer Prize (after being rejected 13 times), might be the central portion of his “Albany Cycle” of novels. Its Joycean style, humor and fierce compassion for the “brotherhood of the desolate” (beginning, appropriately enough, on Halloween, climaxing on All Saints’ Day and ending on All Souls’ Day during the Great Depression) will not be soon forgotten once you have finished it.