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Billy Phelan's Greatest Game Paperback – January 27, 1983


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 27, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140063404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140063400
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

6 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

William Kennedy, author, screenwriter and playwright, was born and raised in Albany, New York. Kennedy brought his native city to literary life in many of his works. The Albany cycle, includes Legs, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Ironweed. The versatile Kennedy wrote the screenplay for Ironweed, the play Grand View, and cowrote the screenplay for the The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola. Kennedy also wrote the nonfiction O Albany! and Riding the Yellow Trolley Car. Some of the other works he is known for include Roscoe and Very Old Bones.

Kennedy is a professor in the English department at the State University of New York at Albany. He is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute and, in 1993, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received numerous literary awards, including the Literary Lions Award from the New York Public Library, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Governor’s Arts Award. Kennedy was also named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France and a member of the board of directors of the New York State Council for the Humanities.


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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Reading the novel is effortless and, overall, the writing is quite good.
R. M. Peterson
If you like historically based fiction, I cannot recommend William Kennedy's Albany books, and especially Billy Phelan highly enough.
John T. Sostak
Again Kennedy has the talent to make his wide variety of characters true.
"seniorreader"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on March 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" by William Kennedy is a mesmerizing, hysterical, and suspenseful romp through Depression-era Albany. Read the first chapter, where Billy bowls someone "to death", and I seriously doubt that you will put the book down. Billy is one of the most memorable characters in William Kennedy's galaxy, moreso than Francis Phelan in my book. Billy is a risk-taker, a guy whose heart is in the right place, and a rough-and-tumble sort that relies on his confidence in the midst of trouble. And these are the qualities that make him the inevitable, although unwilling, middle-man in a kidnapping negotiation.
Billy's world of gamblers, drinkers, sharks, corrupt Albany lackies, and broken families is dark and smoky but never despairing or hopeless. And Billy's moral calculus is a bright spot in this otherwise bleak setting. For my money, "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" is the best of three in the Albany cycle. I found "Legs" to be slow-going and lacking focus. "Ironweed" is a sensational book, a close second to this novel, but its plot of two drinkers going from job to job, joint to joint, drink to drink does begin to wear down. "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" has a good deal of plot tension, moral conflicts, humor, and a wider array of characters. I'm in the minority here, and that's fine, but in my analysis it's
WIN: (by a nose)"Billy Phelan's Greatest Game"
PLACE: "Ironweed"
SHOW: "Legs"
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
Billy Phelan is my fave of the great Kennedys' books. Billy is a fun guy to roam about with, listen to, learn from and even be inspired by. He is a great pool shooter, decent poker player, half-ass bookie and lovely raconteur.He takes the world as it comes and dives in to any and all of it with gusto and guts.Kennedy tosses in illustrative examples of the magic in daily life and the importance of being able to bounce back from those inevitable moments of (temporary!) defeat. All this told in Kennedys fine voice, a voice like that of a chain-smoking angel who can tell a snappy joke or a dazzling blue stretcher. What fun.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By "seniorreader" on April 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
Billy Phelan, son of long gone Francis (Ironweed) has become a "man about town" on the streets of Albany. A snappy dresser, willing to participate in, or bet on, any game in town, has found himself caught up in a kidnapping. This isn't just another game and Billy must play the game of his life for his life.Again Kennedy has the talent to make his wide variety of characters true. My advice is to read this book before Flaming Corsage. The whole cast is there.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
William Kennedy was born in 1928 in Albany's North End. He was for a time a journalist in Albany, he has lived in or around the city most of his life, and he has written an acclaimed non-fiction work about the city, "O Albany!" He is more noted as a novelist, however, and most of his fiction also centers on Albany - much as James Joyce wrote about Dublin or Saul Bellow wrote about Chicago. Three of Kennedy's novels from 1975 to 1983 were part of a consciously crafted and presented "Albany cycle". BILLY PHELAN'S GREATEST GAME (from 1978) is the second of that cycle.

The first of the cycle, "Legs", focused more on a celebrated bootlegger and gangster from the Twenties, Jack "Legs" Diamond, than it did on Albany. BILLY PHELAN'S GREATEST GAME, though, truly is about Albany. The present action in the novel all takes place within a few days in October 1938, and it revolves around the kidnapping for ransom of the son of one of the three McCall brothers ("Albany's own Trinity"), who control both the Democratic Party and the rackets, bars, and night life in the city. The ripples from the kidnapping quickly engulf the two principal characters of the novel - Billy Phelan (hustler and player par excellence) and Martin Daugherty (leading journalist for the Albany newspaper). Throughout the novel, both Billy and Martin, in their own ways, wrestle with the question: "Was it possible to escape the stereotypes and be proud of being an Albany Irishman?"

The portrayal of Irish-Catholic Albany is superb. Similarly excellent is the exploration of the tensions, ambiguities, and ironies of the relations between religions, race and ethnicities, and economic classes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
Albany, New York, during the Depression, when mobsters, crooked politicians, and fast-buck artists were in control, is the setting of _Billy Phelan's Greatest Game-, the second in William Kennedy's "Albany cycle." With some of the same characters appearing in the earlier _Legs_, and later appearing in the later Pulitzer Prize-winning novel _Ironweed_, this novel is a huge step forward for Kennedy. His ability to define character, create suspense, and explore major themes affecting fathers and sons and their values is far more sophisticated here than in _Legs_, the story of mobster Jack "Legs" Diamond.

In a sensational opening scene young Billy Phelan, part-time bookie and small-time card-player and gambler, is bowling the string of his life--two strikes away from a perfect score. The unexpected conclusion of the match, and its consequences for his opponent, produce a kind of metaphor for life in this era: Everyone lives on the edge, no one knows when disaster will strike, and there's not much anyone can do about it. Billy, whose father disappeared when he was young, is doing the best he can, "honoring" those he must "honor," helping his mother and sister, and acquiring a local reputation as a "good guy," taking bets and paying off, and not straying far from home.

When one of his acquaintances, Charlie MacCall, the son and nephew of two local pols, is kidnapped, Billy is asked to monitor the activities of one of the men with whom he plays cards, a man suspected of involvement in the kidnapping. Not a "stoolie," Billy faces a crisis of conscience. The reappearance of his father, an alcoholic who "helps" people who can help him, adds to his dilemma, since he counsels cooperation.
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