Monday, October 11, 2010

Ironweed Pt. 1- Another lovable bastard

The lovable bastard theme continues with Francis Phelan- a washed up baseball player roaming around the streets of Albany, NY, reminiscing about the good old days in a drunken haze while his drunken bum friends follow him around. A played concept, to be sure, but one that is done with an incredible amount of care and character and presented with a incredible grasp of stylistic prose and narrative innovation.

So the driving force behind Francis is a whole slew of inner demons relating to people he has killed, both on purpose and accident, over the course of his lifetime. The author brings this out through an awesome technique- Set the whole thing on Halloween and let all of these dead people walk the streets and approach Francis as if it were casual run in. The whole idea works absolutely wonderfully since its presented as if this is just another character. It usually takes a page or two before you realize that the person is actually dead, then the whole interaction is put in a brand new light, making the reader want to take a few steps back and read the whole thing again. Kennedy also does an awesome job of pulling Francis in two different directions- one who obviously cares about those around him and one who is incredibly destructive and extremely harmful. This is where the lovable bastard theme comes in and its probably my favorite portrayal of the archetype to date because of this extreme. The guy isn't just a bastard, but a damn MURDERER.

Kennedy also does an incredible job of grounding the characters in squalor. Its easy to get swept up in the characters and their thought processes. They're people living their life and trying to do it the best they can, so that is how they would present themselves. This is incredibly true and very honest, but it ignores what they have to go through on a regular basis. So Kennedy inserts some very important scenes (such as a woman hooking to earn a spot inside of a broken down car for the night or a woman freezing to death on the street and being partially eaten by dogs) to bring the whole thing back down to earth. Casual references to Francis' remaining teeth also help this along in a very convincing and effective way.

This book really presents nothing new, but then again what does? Everything was done by the Greek playwrights and people have just been presenting the ideas in different ways since then. Ironweed speaks to what it means to be human, and, obviously, what humanity actually is. Its about what it means to live with pride and whether or not you need money to do so. Its a age old problem presented in a very twentieth century way, but one that still speaks to us now. A hell of a lot of people will live their entire lives in poverty, and with a collapsing capitalist system, that percentage of people (which is already the vast majority) will continue to increase. So how do we live with dignity? With pride? Just live? All of this might be inside us somewhere, but its getting harder and harder to find that thing without some amount of financial aid.

Stylistically, the whole thing is written in the vernacular of the time, or at least what I feel would be the vernacular. All of the lines of dialogue sound like they would be said by a hard nosed detective who has an incredibly nasally voice, speaks out of the side of his mouth and ends every sentence with "See?" Whether this was done to sound like a Hollywood movie of the time (or shortly there after), or if it just ends up sounding like that because its the most accessible material for me to compare it to, it works incredibly well with the themes of the book. These aren't the upper class of the time, the celebrities I see on the screen, but they talk like it, which makes me imagine that they try to hold themselves like it. Its about that personal dignity in a world of filth, and every detail of the prose holds its own against this backdrop.

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