PPRL: Ironweed, by William Kennedy

This one was painful. I wouldn't wish this one on any teenager, and I really hope there aren't too many sadistic high school English teachers inflicting it on their classes. Heavy, plodding, and meandering, broken up mostly by brutally graphic violence. One nods in reverence to its narrative structure, its use of motif, and the classically Pulitzer exploration of societal evil and individual redemption. But one plows through it as fast as one can to get it over with. Really hoping none of it stays lodged in my brain for too long. Doesn't help that I had the images of Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep (who starred in the film adaptation) to bring it to life in my head. 

Excerpts:

...as he stood looking at Annie's mouth with its store teeth, he perceived that a kiss is as expressive of a way of life as a smile, or a scarred hand. Kisses that come up from below, or down from above. They come from the brain sometimes, sometimes from the heart, and sometimes just from the crotch. Kisses that taper off after a while come only from the heart and leave the taste of sweetness. Kisses that come from the brain tend to try to work things out inside other folks' mouths and don't hardly register. And kisses from the crotch and brain put together, with maybe a little bit of heart, like Katrina's, well they are kisses that can send you right around the bend for your whole life.

The empyrean, which is not spatial at all, does not move and has no poles. It girds, with light and love, the primum mobile, the utmost and swiftest of material heavens. Angels are manifested in the primum mobile. 

Themes to consider:

Juxtaposition of the supernatural and earthly. What does each have to teach Francis? What does each hold in retribution for his sins? Will his redemption be of this world or the next?

Self-loathing and self-sabotage. After Gerald's death, Francis seems set almost on a course of self-destruction. Is this him punishing himself or acting out his anger at his lot in life?

The turning of fortunes. The destitution of the "bums" as contrasted with the wealth and prestige of Helen's brother -- and all shades in between. Where does Francis belong in all of this? What is his true station and destiny? And what roles do (bad) luck and providence play?

Sin as a "junk" burden. How Francis labored under Rosskam for only a day before shrugging off the work load, literally and figuratively. Meanwhile he accumulated a junk load of guilt-tripping ghosts. What is the meaning of this? Is Kennedy suggesting that one's past can never be shrugged off? Or that it must be?

Sex as death and vice versa.

Words!

cenotaph: a monument to someone buried elsewhere, especially one commemorating people who died in a war

gravid: pregnant; carrying eggs or young

gandy dancer: a laborer in a railroad maintenance gang

semaphore: a system of sending messages by holding the arms or two flags or poles in certain positions according to an alphabetic code.

expiation: the act of making amends or reparation for guilt or wrongdoing; atonement

tonsorial: relating to hairdressing.

contumacious: (especially of a defendant's behavior) stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority

suspire: to breathe

tremolo: a wavering effect in a musical tone, produced either by rapid reiteration of a note, by rapid repeated slight variation in the pitch of a note, or by sounding two notes of slightly different pitches to produce prominent overtones

arriviste: an ambitious or ruthlessly self-seeking person, especially one who has recently acquired wealth or social status

erubescent: becoming red or reddish; blushing

fontanel: a space between the bones of the skull in an infant or fetus, where ossification is not complete and the sutures not fully formed. The main one is between the frontal and parietal bones