Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Low Fire Gets Hot for Writer William Kennedy the Critics Are Nuts about His New Novel

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Low Fire Gets Hot for Writer William Kennedy the Critics Are Nuts about His New Novel

Article excerpt

THESE days 68-year-old William Kennedy has the kind of nervous anticipation a child might possess on Christmas Eve.

Between talking about his new book, "The Flaming Corsage" (Viking, $23.95), he jumped up to take a call from his editor who told him of yet another positive review. And as he walked through his rambling 19th-century house outside Albany, he shut off lights and moved knickknacks.

Often thumping his fingers against a chair or table, he admitted he's excited about "The Flaming Corsage" and the opening of his first play.

"It's a very exciting time to have two things happen in the same week. That never happened before. There hasn't been this kind of synergy since 1983 when `Ironweed' was published and then `Legs' came out at the same ti me and I got a MacArthur all in the same week. That was an amazing time."

Besides the "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation, Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for "Ironweed" in 1984. The movie version followed, starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

In 1993, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The word "Pulitzer" cut from a headline is affixed to the door of his office, where he keeps such mementos as the boots Nicholson wore in the movie and giant cutouts of gangster Legs Diamond and Billy Phelan, characters in some of his works.

"Very Old Bones" came out in 1992 with less fanfare but still decent reviews. But "The Flaming Corsage," a tightly woven tale of a doomed marriage, is the book that some critics say is his best work yet.

Viking editor Al Silverman, who has worked with Kennedy for seven years, said these could be Kennedy's best years. "It's a nice stride to be hitting. I think there's a lot of carryover going on from this novel. He seems much more self-assured."

And Kennedy has boxes of notes for ideas on other books, other plays.

"Having a new creation in the mill is something that lifts an author's spirit," Silverman said. "I think his whole life is wrapped up around sort of the Joycean ethic. …

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