Robert Edric

A world of drivers and passengers

VJ night, the war in the Pacific is finally over, and in William Kennedy’s Albany the war of senatorial election is about to begin. The candidates stand up to be counted and the consequences of their election are considered.

Small crooks fresh out of crook school and the army rise into the lower reaches of these considerations. Bigger crooks and politicians start to circle each other and to watch their backs. And the biggest and most battle-scarred crooks of all (politicians to a man) – chief among whom resides Roscoe Conway – sit with their open wallets on their desks, old hunting trophies high on the walls of their offices, with their cigar-stuffed and ring-stiffened fingers clasped across their long-lunch paunches, and with the sounds of screaming, pleading, laughter and rapid gunshots conveniently far enough off-stage for them not necessarily to have to be heard. Or for them to be heard and taken note of depending on who is doing the pleading and the screaming and who is doing the laughing and the shooting.

Welcome to the seventh roller-coaster ride through the world of William Kennedy’s Albany. For admirers of this world – 25 years and counting, and including the Pulitzer-winning Ironweed – this is a town and a people who will need no introduction. No one here is ever what they seem; there are no conventionally good or bad men or women, just crooks, politicians and honest citizens with appetites they strive to feed, and with flaws to which they all too willingly succumb. As Roscoe himself puts it: a world of drivers and passengers, of dreaming schemers and scheming dreamers without even a thinly drawn line between them to tell them apart.

But Roscoe, though still driven by his ‘rage for duty’, is an ailing man – his heart is bleeding – and this may be his last chance to be a player in the world he has helped to create.

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