I couldn’t help picturing Jack Nicholson while I read Ironweed and I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. My viewing of the film version, however, was incomplete as I’ve never seen it in its entirety, but rather in bits and pieces, not as intended, but just how it turned out. The written version helped filled in the blanks for my limited viewing.
Transitioning from the ultimate indifferent characters in Tobacco Road to the utterly destitute ones in Ironweed was akin to stepping down another rung into Dante’s inferno. This is a dark and raw book with no feel good interjections. You knew people were going to get hurt and you knew people were going to die and you didn’t even bother hoping otherwise.
The central character, Frances Phelan has visions of several departed people; family, men he has killed and a son who died after slipping from his hands. Whether these images are a result of mental illness or severe alcoholism or both was not clear. Frances is a drifter who does what is necessary to survive such a life and is a staunch defender of the men and women living as he.
Companion to Frances, Helen Archer is a sad woman whose fall resulted after her father kills himself following financial ruin. Helen’s future as a musician is thwarted, she falls in with a married man and ends up drowning her sorrows. Here is an abject lesson in what not to do when faced with adversity.
The long suffering wife of Frances, Annie appears numb to the blows life has dealt her. When Frances returns after a 22 year absence, she does not even seem surprised by the reappearance. Her acceptance and calm seem inappropriate yet she is the perfect balance of her equally accepting son and bitter and resentful daughter.
I’m sure I’d enjoy chatting with Mr. Kennedy and hearing some sombre tales of life in Albany. Our common Irish heritage could be the icebreaker and perhaps we could swap a tale or two over some muscatel, or better yet an ale or two.
My rating for Ironweed is a 9 out of 10.
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