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The Flaming Corsage Paperback – April 1, 1997
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Kennedy has won a large and loyal following, but you don't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Kennedy fan to enjoy this latest addition to the famous Albany cycle of novels -- from whence come the likes of Ironweed, his Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winner. The Flaming Corsage is a return to the same place, different time. Bouncing back and forth from 1884 to 1912, Kennedy's story is of wealth and class in Albany; his prose is at once moodily atmospheric and refreshingly clear -- an utter pleasure to read. The book is a historical novel, yet feels perfectly modern, and perfectly entertaining. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Enthusiastic readers of Kennedy's Albany Cycle novels, which includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ironweed, may be disappointed with this thin tale of love, betrayal and class divisions at the turn of the century. Playwright Edward Daugherty, born to hardscrabble Irish Catholic parents in North Albany, wins the heart of Katrina Taylor, daughter of an established Protestant family whose forebears go back to the founding of the city. Predictably, the marriage is not welcomed by either family, but love wins out. When Edward earns acclaim as a dramatist, he feels emboldened to offer a gaudy attempt at reconciling the family: he buys Katrina's father a racing horse, her mother a fur, and pays for a huge banquet for both families. But all ends in tragedy as fire roars through the dining room, killing one person and injuring Katrina (a burning splinter pierces her through her corsage). Edward and Katrina's problems don't end there: Edward falls in love with a young actress, and Katrina, in a promising plot twist that never pays off, has an affair with Francis Phelan, the ill-fated protagonist of Ironweed. By various intrigues, more tragedies occur, most notably the "Love Nest Killings," in which a jealous husband shoots to death his wife and then himself, after wounding Edward in a New York hotel room. Although Kennedy makes an attempt to reflect these goings-on through the prism of Daugherty's plays, the effort smacks not only of a playwright's hopeless desperation to redeem himself but also a novelist's attempt to raise a rather trite novella into a novel of ideas. 100,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/promo.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Once again set in Albany, this novel goes back into the 1880's to begin. We see young versions of some of the characters to arrive in Kennedy's other books. Unlike most of his other novels, politics and bootlegging do not play a big role.
The book starts as a love story between a young Irish man with some education and a beautiful upper crust old money girl. The characters are engaging, the writing wonderful and the dialogue terrific.
The novel then begins to go off the deep end. It seemed to me to cry out for an editor. Suddenly it became non-lineal without reason. Nor did the non-lineal aspect add a thing to it - it only made the plot difficult to follow.
By the end there has been a love triangle (told in snippets of retrospective) and a murder-suicide. As the main character/narrative slips into depression after the beautiful wife has died in a fire ending her life of quasi-madness he turns into crime solver and seeks retribution. If you had difficulty following that recap of the last fifth of the book, imagine when it is spread over 40 pages.
Kennedy's writing is superb. Unfortunately after the first half I began to hurry to the end. By the last portion I was shaking my head in wonderment that such a fine writer could have told a story so poorly.
The Albany novel that THE FLAMING CORSAGE is closest to in story line is "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game". Next to the inimitable Billy Phelan, the most important character of that novel is Martin Daugherty. The central characters of THE FLAMING CORSAGE are Martin's parents, Edward Daugherty and Katrina Daugherty (née Taylor), and the novel essentially tracks their star-crossed courtship and marriage, from 1884 to 1912. Edward was North Albany shantytown-Irish made good, with an education and manners, but still tainted by potatoes and cabbage and beer and Roman Catholicism in the eyes of Katrina's parents, the descendants of the 17th-Century Dutch and English settlers who grew into Hudson Valley aristocrats, dining on oysters and foie gras. At one point in the novel, Edward expresses the notion that "the impulse to love is a disease" and the novel fleshes out that notion, against the localized Albany backdrop of class- and ethnic-based strife and animosity and a more universal backdrop of lust and infidelity.
One dramatic highpoint of the novel occurs on December 30, 1894, when the Delavan House - a nationally famous hotel and THE social locus of Albany's political crowd - went up in flames (an actual historical event). When the elevator shaft exploded, it hurled into the air "blazing splinters and sticks, one of which pierced the breast of Katrina and instantly set her gown aflame," including her corsage of violets. Hence the title of the novel. And, hence the title of one of Edward's plays, in which he tried to pin down the elusive truth of the events leading up to the novel's other dramatic highpoint - the "Love Nest killing" from 1908 at the Millerton House in Manhattan. The novel ends up casting shadows of doubt on "facts" and "the truth", just as it does on love.
THE FLAMING CORSAGE is most successful as an historical portrait of its time and place. It is slightly less successful as an overall story, though still entertaining. It is yet less successful in limning convincing characters, with whom a reader can empathize. Oddly, for an historical novel of sorts, it seems to operate as much in the realm of myth as that of reality. There are a few great scenes (especially the one in which Edward tries to overcome the ingrained hostilities of Katrina's parents to any and all Catholic Irish), but there also are a few contrived ones and even some silly moments. The writing generally is above average, but I found the admixture of styles (excerpts from diaries, newspaper journalism, and stage plays inserted into a conventional prose narrative) somewhat forced and disconcerting. I don't begrudge my time spent reading the novel, but that mostly is because I enjoyed fitting the characters and events into the overall Albany saga being produced by William Kennedy.