As a longtime resident of Albany, New York, it was with a sense of wonder that I read of Albany streets and buildings and its seeming history. Albany is not New York or Paris or London–it rarely features as the setting for a novel. But the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kennedy’s novel is not parochial. He has developed a whole world based in Albany, in this and previous works. Roscoe takes place in 1945 around the time of VJ Day, but there are numerous flashbacks to earlier periods. Layers upon layers are built up to describe the period in uncanny detail, centered on the Albany Democratic party machine in the first half of the 20th century. Roscoe Conway is one of a triumvirate who controls the party. Roscoe’s entire life is bound up in politics. He struggles with his morals, “As I am incapable of truth …so am I incapable of lying, which is, as we all know, the secret of the truly successful politician.” The Democratic machine of the period is as corrupt as they come. The phrase “vote early and vote often” describes the situation at the polls accurately; the police chief is Roscoe’s brother, the mayor is the son of Roscoe’s closest friend, and a previous mayor was Roscoe’s father. Relationships are central in this story.
In an author’s note, Kennedy says that while some of the events described actually happened and some of the people may seem to be real, Roscoe is a novel and they are invented. However, I’ll never think upon Albany history quite the same way again. His vivid characters and engaging characters have easily supplanted what I know of the actual historical figures they so closely resemble (at least outwardly). I strongly recommend this book even to those who haven’t heard of the city. By the time you finish, a larger-than-life Albany will have come alive for you.