A Novel

William Kennedy - Author

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ISBN 9780142001738 | 306 pages | 26 Nov 2002 | Penguin | 5.11 x 7.75in | 18 - AND UP
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The first novel from William Kennedy in more than five years and universally acclaimed as his most powerful work since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ironweed, Roscoe shows Kennedy at his very best. It's V-J Day, the war is over, and Roscoe Conway, after twenty-six years as the second in command of Albany's notorious political machine, decides to quit politics forever. But there's no way out, and only his Machiavellian imagination can help him cope with the erupting disasters. Every step leads back to the past-to the early loss of his true love, the takeover of city hall, the machine's fight with FDR and Al Smith to elect a governor, and the methodical assassination of gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond. "Thick with crime, passion, and backroom banter" (The New Yorker), Roscoe is an odyssey of great scope and linguistic verve, a deadly, comic masterpiece from one of America's most important writers.



Roscoe Owen Conway presided at Albany Democratic Party headquarters, on the eleventh floor of the State Bank building, the main stop for Democrats on the way to heaven. Headquarters occupied three large offices: one where Roscoe, secretary and second in command of the Party, received supplicants and debtors, one where Bart Merrigan and Joey Manucci controlled the flow of visitors and phone calls, and one for the safe which, when put here, was the largest in the city outside of a bank vault. Of late, no money was kept in it, only deceptive Democratic financial data to feed to the Governor's investigators, who had been swooping down on the Party's files since 1942, the year the Governor-elect vowed to destroy Albany Democrats.

Money, instead of going into the great safe, went into Roscoe's top drawer, where he would put it without counting it when a visitor such as Philly Fillipone, who sold produce to the city and county, handed him a packet of cash an inch thick, held by a rubber band.

"Maybe you better count it, make sure there's no mistake," Philly said.

Roscoe did not acknowledge that Philly had raised the possibility of shorting the Party, even by accident. He dropped the cash into the open drawer, where Philly could see a pile of twenties. Democratic business was done with twenties. Then Philly asked, "Any change in how we work this year, Roscoe?"

"No," Roscoe said, "same as usual." And Philly went away.

At his desk by the door Joey Manucci was recording, on the lined pad where he kept track of visitors in their order of arrival, the names of the men who had just walked in, Jimmy Givneyand Cutie LaRue. Joey was printing each name, for he could not write script or read it. Bart Merrigan spoke to the two arrivals. Merrigan, who had gone into the army with Roscoe and Patsy McCall in 1917, was built like a bowling pin, an ex-boxer and a man of great energy whom Roscoe trusted with his life. Merrigan leaned into Roscoe's office.

"Patsy called. He'll be in the Ten Eyck lobby in fifteen minutes. Givney from the Twelfth Ward and Cutie LaRue just came in."

"Have them come back Friday," Roscoe said. "Is the war over?"

"Not yet. Cutie says you'll want to see him."

"How does he know?"

"Cutie knows. And what Cutie don't know he'll find out."

"Send him in."

Merrigan told Jimmy Givney to come back Friday and Joey scratched a line through his name, using a ruler for neatness. Merrigan turned up the volume of the desk radio he was monitoring for news of the official Japanese surrender. A large framed photo of the new President hung on the wall behind his desk. On the wall opposite hung George Washington, FDR, who was still draped in black crepe, and Alexander Fitzgibbon, the young Mayor of Albany.

"What can I do for you, Cute?" Roscoe asked.

"Can we close the door?"

"Close it."

And Cutie did. Then he sat down. George (Cutie) LaRue was an aspiring lawyer who had failed the bar examination fourteen times in eight states before he passed it. He did not practice, but he knew most of the political population of Albany on a first-name basis. He functioned as a legislative lobbyist, and everybody knew him by his large, heavy-lidded, Oriental eyes, though he was French. He had a low forehead and combed his hair straight back. His tic was slicking back the hair over his right ear with the heel of his hand as he exhaled cigarette smoke from his mouth and inhaled it up his nose. Cutie knew your needs and he often lobbied for you, whether you paid him or not. If he delivered, you paid him. If he didn't deliver, he'd try again next session. He held no grudges, for he was ambitious. Cutie once overheard Patsy saying he wanted a book on Ambrose Burnside, a Union general in the Civil War, but it was out of print. Cutie learned that a copy was sitting on a shelf in the library at West Point. He drove to West Point, stole the book, and gave it to Patsy.

"You didn't hear this from me," Cutie said to Roscoe.

"I don't even know what you look like," Roscoe said.

"I heard it from Scully's office this afternoon. Straight stuff, Roscoe. I kid you not."

"Are you just talking, Cute, or are you trying to say something?"

"They want to nail you."

"This is very big news, Cute. I wish you could stay longer."

"They have stuff they can use."

"Like that missing forty thou when they subpoenaed our books? That money is not missing," Roscoe said.

"They're tapping your lines, reading your mail, watching your wild girl-friend, Trish Cooney."

"She's easy to watch. Also, she leaves the shades up."

"They know all your moves with women."

"They get paid for this?"

"You got a reputation. You know how they like scandal."

"I wish my life was that interesting. But thanks, Cute. Is that it?"

"They're on you full-time. I heard Scully himself say nailing you was as good as nailing Patsy."

"I appreciate this news."

"You know what I'm looking for, Roscoe."

"Yes, I do. A courtroom you can call home."

"It's not asking a lot. I'm not talking Supreme Court. Small Claims Court, maybe. Or Traffic Court. I'd make a hell of a judge."

Roscoe considered that: The Cute Judge. Cute the Judge. Judge Cutie. Cutie Judgie. Jurors in his court would do Cutie Duty.

"A hell of a judge," Roscoe said. "It goes without saying."


Roscoe put on his blue seersucker suitcoat, waved farewell to the boys, took the elevator down, and went out and up State Street hill. The day was August 14, 1945. Roscoe wore a full beard, going gray, but his mustache was mostly black. Trust no man, not even your brother, if his beard is one color, his mustache another. He was fat but looked only burly, thinking about developing an ulcer but seemed fit. He was burning up but looked cool in his seersucker.

He went into the State Street entrance of the Ten Eyck and up the stairs to the lobby, which was also cool and busy with people checking in-three soldiers, two WACs, a sailor and a girl, rooms scarce tonight if the Japs surrendered. He crossed the marble floor of the lobby and sat where he always sat, precisely where Felix Conway, his father, had sat, this corner known then and now as the Conway corner. He signaled silently to Whitey the bellhop to send a waiter with a gin and quinine water, his daily ritual at this hour. He looked across the lobby, trying to see his father. I'm looking for advice, he told the old man.

Roscoe's condition had become so confounding that he had asked Patsy McCall and Elisha Fitzgibbon, his two great friends, with whom he formed the triaxial brain trust of the Albany Democratic Party, to come to the hotel and talk to him, away from all other ears. Roscoe, at this moment staring across time, finds his father sitting in this corner. It is a chilly spring afternoon in 1917, the first Great War is ongoing in Europe, and Roscoe, twenty-seven, will soon be in that war. He's clean-shaven, a lawyer whose chief client is the Fitzgibbon Steel mill, and he also has an eye on politics. Felix Conway is a man of sixty-five, with a full, gray beard down to his chest, hiding his necktie. He's wearing a waistcoat, suit coat, overcoat, and cap, but also covers himself with a blanket to fend off the deadly springtime drafts in the Ten Eyck Hotel lobby. Felix is a hotel-dweller and will remain one for the rest of his days, which are not many. He had been the thrice-elected, once-ejected Mayor of Alba

"Driven by a narrative electricity as alive as post-war America. Roscoe is Kennedy's finest novel since Ironweed." —The Boston Globe

"This is a novel that, as they say, has it all.... Kennedy is a writer with something to say, about matters that touch us all, and he does it with uncommon artistry." —Michael Thomas, The Washington Post

"A beaut, deadly serious high comedy propelled by soaring flights of linguistic legerdemain." —Ward Just, The New York Times Book Review

"This new book has a lyricism and a gusto rarely achieved in serious American novels about politics.... Roscoe may, in fact, be Kennedy's greatest." —Tom Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly

"An exuberant portrait of political and sexual intrigue. Its politics are backroom and bare-knuckle, all about power and money." —USA Today

"William Kennedy writes so melodiously about the Irish ruffians of old Albany, NY he could make Philip Roth wish he were Catholic." —San Francisco Chronicle


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