IRONWEED is often favorably compared to James Joyce's ULYSSES. Where Joyce reveals the streets of Dublin through Leopold Bloom, Kennedy reveals the streets of Albany through Francis Phelan. But IRONWEED is more than just a regional portrait of New York's capital. It is also the story of a man coming to terms with his life.
Francis Phelan is a former baseball player and a drunkard who abandoned his family after a series of misfortunes. He is a 58-year-old bum by choice when he returns to Albany in 1938 for the first time since leaving his family. The reader follows Phelan as he revisits his old haunts and takes a temporary job as a grave digger. The old neighborhood stirs his memory and causes him to revisit the past and call to mind the events that led to his current homeless state. Kennedy illuminates the Irish immigrant experience in Albany, the depression, and the universal experiences of love, loss, and faith.
IRONWEED was rejected 11 times before Viking Press agreed to publish it in 1983. It was met with critical acclaim and went on to win its author a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.