Mysterious Book Report Roscoe

Roscoe  by William Kennedy

Viking, 2002, $24.95, 291 pages, ISBN 0-670-03029-5) by William Kennedy

I don’t know about you, but from my point of view, it seems like these days are dominated politics.  We’re being force-fed a steady diet of it, like geese being prepared for goose-liver pate’ in a gourmet restaurant, at least until the fall slaughter, er, ah, I meant to say election, when it will all be over after a lot of squawking, feathers and hatchet jobs.  With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do something different in this weeks MBR, and review a non-mystery.  And yep, you guessed it . . . it’s about politics.  You didn’t think I gave you that lead-in for nothing, did you?

The novel is titled Roscoe, by William Kennedy, who lives and writes in Albany, New York.

Roscoe is the seventh novel in what is called the Albany Cycle by Kennedy, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Ironweed, the third work in the group.  It was made into an award-winning movie starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, and responsible for making homelessness into a front-burner issue with the American public.

Roscoe Conway is a kingmaker, the so called, “man-behind-the-throne,” who makes and implements policy, as well as strategizing for the king.  Roscoe is the brain-trust for the political machine that controls the Democrat party in Albany during the 1920’s and 30’s … thus controlling the office of the Governor, and all the political appointments for New York State.

As the book begins, it’s VJ day, WWII has ended and Roscoe has decided to quit politics forever, because he recognizes that the game is changing, and he no longer has the heart, or the stomach for it.  When word leaks out about his decision however, threats of retaliation against him and his family begin.  And Roscoe, a man without scruples finds himself ensnared; he’s a victim of his own deviousness and the man who points out that “The truth is in the details, even if you invent the details,” is faced with the realization that his problems in the present, all tie-in with his deeds of the past, as he recounts them one-by-one.  Roscoe is on my list of the year’s Best Books for 2008, and I find it no less compelling when revisiting it today.  Truth be told, I highly recommend these four books of the Albany Cycle:  Leg’s, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, Ironweed, and Roscoe to everyone with an interest in history, New York State and great writing.  You’ll love the details, whether made up or real.


John Dwaine McKenna