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Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes Hardcover – September 29, 2011
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"His most musical work of fiction: a polyrhythmic contemplation of time and its effects on passion set in three different eras . . . this is not a book a young man would or could write. There is the sense here of somebody who has seen and considered much, without letting his inner fire cool . . . the ambition and the ability to pull wildly diverse worlds together in a single story is rare. Kennedy, master of the Irish-American lament in works like Billy Phelan's Greatest Game and Ironweed, proves here he can play with both hands and improvise on a theme without losing the beat." — John Sayles, The New York Times Book Review (front page)
"Written with such brio and encompassing humanity that it may well deserve to be called the best of the bunch . . . In Mr. Kennedy's Albany, as in William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, the past is never past. Changó's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is invigorated by this same blending of new and old, of progress and recurrence . . . there's more shot and incidence in Changó than in any novel of Mr. Kennedy's since Legs . . . the style here has the sleekness and strength of good crime noir." — Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
"Vivid and charming . . . Kennedy, now in his 80s, is in the embrace of nostalgia as he looks back on the adventures of his youth, and this gives the novel much of its not inconsiderable appeal . . . He is a fluid, engaging prose stylist, and frequently a witty one . . . Kennedy has maintained a high level of achievement throughout [his Albany Cycle], deftly blending comedy and drama as, over the years, he has painted a portrait of a single city perhaps unique in American fiction." — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"Kennedy's humor is sly and wonderful . . . there's an almost deliriously rich cast of lowlifes here: gun runners, politicians on the make, street- corner agitators, prostitutes, winos . . . Kennedy's] description of Hemingway . . . is well-nigh perfect." — Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
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.
Top customer reviews
These two opening scenes, the arrival of Hemingway, and Quinn's interview with the young Fidel Castro, establish the narrative tone and atmosphere for this novel which focuses on two revolutions: Castro's revolution in Cuba, and the slightly later revolution in the US in the 1960s regarding civil rights. Using the life of Tremont Van Ort, a pool hustler with two-tone shoes, as a focus for the Albany "revolution," the author concentrates the action on June 5, 1968, the day that Robert Kennedy is shot and a race riot breaks out in Albany.
The chaos of the race riots parallels in many ways the seeming chaos of much of the narrative. Though Kennedy is too good a writer to lose sight of his thematic focus completely, the many characters, the often complex backstories of each, the unexpected shifts in time through generations, and even Quinn's dreams make the story line difficult to absorb, at times. In addition, some of the most important explanations for what is happening are deliberately withheld until nearly the end of the novel
The novel, however, has many scenes of wit and charm, and even more which are full of power. The local color with which William Kennedy imbues settings in both Cuba and Albany keeps the reader enthralled and reading onward, even when almost overwhelmed with questions about the action. In the Albany sections, which are more emotionally resonant, the author creates some unforgettable characters: Reverend Matthew Daugherty, a radical Franciscan priest; Quinn's father George, now senile; Tremont Van Ort, sought by a Black Power activist, who wants him to kill the Mayor; and an assortment of prostitutes, drug bosses, and musicians.
A sense of realism, honed by Kennedy's journalistic career, pervades Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, but the novel is also highly literary, filled with repeating images, symbols, dreams, and music to enliven the action and broaden the scope. His humor and irony add considerable charm to the novel, and for many readers those qualities will more than outweigh the sometimes wooden characters and wandering narrative. Mary Whipple
Ironweed: A novel
Kennedy will be 84 in a few weeks and this book was published in 2011. One of the characters in the book is George Quinn an aging bon vivant who was everything from a reporter and author to a numbers man and dancer. He is so ingrained in Albany and its Golden Age that he seemingly knows everyone and everyone knows him. His sense of duty, gentlemanliness and soft spot for the downtrodden has been reduced to the foggy triteness of age related dementia embedded in the cliché ridden recesses of his mind. But although he is my favorite character, and perhaps the author's as well, the technical protagonist is Dan Quinn, George's son. Dan, named after his grandfather, comes from a line of tireless and fearless journalistic minded explorers of all things newsworthy.
Early on in this novel we are front and center in the revolution which Castro managed to get out in front of in 1957. Dan Quinn is on the receiving end of some fatherly advice from Papa Hemingway who seems to spend his time roaming and carousing in the bars and lounges of post mafia Havana. Dan eventually finds himself knee deep in the trappings and wangles an interview with Fidel while simultaneously pursuing the love or at least infatuation of his life, the incredibly beautiful and dark Renata.
We next encounter Dan in 1968 Albany the week Bobby Kennedy was shot in L.A. Dan is married and has his father in tow. He decides to pawn dad off on the bar tender at the Elks so he can pursue a budding local assassination plot with the mayor of Albany as the putative target. When Dad (George) finds himself lost in the heart of a developing race riot the unlikely seems almost normal. With a cadre of piano players, pimps, pro's, politico's, and padre's anything goes.
In the mean time a blast from the past shows up with a million cash in a satchel and reminds Dan that his (Dan's) wife, the tempting and sultry Renata, once had a tryst with this actor wannabe who now, believe it or not, wants to go back to Cuba. He needs help with this and wants to stash his dough with the beautiful ghost of his dreams. This is one of those sub plot moments when you wonder if the author argued with the editor over its inclusion. It almost seems like OK we need some big dough; how can we work that in? I forgive the author this over worked canard because I love his work.
One advantage to reading the prior novels is that the characters here are familiar and the back story is firmly in place just like we left it back with Roscoe, the Phelen's and many denizens that is Albany. But I predict you'll love it whether you read the others or just want a ride through the 50's and 60's. Nostalgic and good reading. 3* GIBO