February 18, 2009

“My guilt is all I have left. If I lose it, I have stood for nothing, done nothing.”

Maybe Ironweed is the darkest book I’ve ever read. I’m thinking that maybe it’s also the reason it took me so long to read. I wound up reading a couple of graphic novels and even picking up a second book while reading it.

That doesn’t mean its a bad book at all– just that I found it difficult. I was embarrassed to find that one of the reasons I found Ironweed so hard to read was the length of the sentences. They’d go on and on, for three, four, five lines, and I, with the attention span of a beagle puppy, had a hard time following along.

I liked Ironweed. It moved me. I have every intention of reading at least one more of Kennedy’s Albany Cycle books.

Ironweed revolves around Francis Phelan and his guilt. Francis is a (to use the term so often used in the book) bum who left his family about 20 years earlier when he dropped and killed his 13 day-old baby, Gerald. The book follows him and a couple of other bums on their quest to not freeze to death in the frozen post-depression Albany winter of 1938. The book also tells of his finally, after so many years, confronting his own sense of guilt for the death of his son and so many others encountered while on the bum. I don’t know. Maybe frozen Albany is supposed to double for purgutory. It doesn’t matter. When his dead baby’s ghost, in a Six Feet Under-type speech, tells him that after he has redeemed himself he will “stop trying to die because of me,” I felt it like a gut-punch.

When I hear that a book or a movie is “about redemption” I usually cringe at the sound. But I really, really liked this book. This is a book about doing really awful shit and almost destroying yourself over it.


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