Roscoe by William Kennedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Inevitably, this classically American novel ends up on a gambling riverboat. The Hudson, the Mississippi, the best metaphor for America is always the floating opera, inhabited by earnest tricksters. And by ironically honest folks, who wish the world would operate the way it should so they wouldn't have to game it.
Among scant others, William Kennedy brings the Rustbelt back to our literary realities, which seem always to be out West or down South. No matter how many authors might have been born and raised here upstate of Manhattan in New York. Ginsberb, Carol-Oates, there've been a few who render forward our gritty past. Even Tim Russert might qualify as a real-life denizen in one of Kennedy's novels, although he would seem too improbably good.
But it's Mark Twain and his riverboats that I'm reminded of mostly. He was also from these parts, claimed by Elmira New York with as much validity as by anywhere else.
Roscoe describes the world leading up to and around the lost innocence of the Bomb. Machine politics, rum running, cock fighting, boozing and womanizing among people who seem to wish it didn't have to be that way. But it did and so they tried to forgive themselves. Twain without the twinkle.
They managed to carry on despite failed loves, lost lives and buried reputations. Nothing comes out clean in the end, where the Bomb is never so present as by its omission.
We might pay attention once again to who we were back then and so very close to home. We might wonder how easily still our votes get bought or sold, and our consciences tricked. And we might question how sure we are that we are the first ones to lead conscious lives in the shadow of imminent destruction.
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