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The second novel in William Kennedy’s much-loved Albany cycle depicts Billy Phelan, a slightly tarnished poker player, pool hustler, and small-time bookie.  A resourceful man full of Irish pluck, Billy works the fringes of the Albany sporting life with his own particular style and private code of honor, until he finds himself in the dangerous position of potential go-betweThe second novel in William Kennedy’s much-loved Albany cycle depicts Billy Phelan, a slightly tarnished poker player, pool hustler, and small-time bookie.  A resourceful man full of Irish pluck, Billy works the fringes of the Albany sporting life with his own particular style and private code of honor, until he finds himself in the dangerous position of potential go-between in the kidnapping of a political boss’s son....

Title : Billy Phelan's Greatest Game
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780140063400
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Billy Phelan's Greatest Game Reviews

  • Allan
    2019-03-03 12:16

    I picked up this novel as part of William Kennedy's 'Albany Cycle', after Willy Vlautin stated that the second in the series, 'Ironweed' is his favourite ever book-high praise indeed, so, having bought the first volume of the cycle, I was very much looking forward to seeing what I made of this first instalment.Set in 1930s Albany, the narrative follows two main characters-Billy Phelan, small time bookie, pool hustler, card player and bowler, and journalist Martin Daugherty, son to a previously famous and now ageing writer, and someone who still lives in the Irish American community from which he came. Both men get caught up in the fallout from the kidnap of the son of a local corrupt politician by persons unknown.This all sounds action packed, but the novel isn't a thriller by any means. The kidnap is always in the background, but Kennedy spends the majority of the 250 pages of the book charting the everyday life of the characters inhabiting the underbelly of Albany of the time. Occasionally I found the narrative to be a bit of a drag, and to be honest was a little disappointed with the whole book in general terms. However, the best thing about the narrative for me was when Billy Phelan's estranged father, Francis, was featured-the fact that the Pulitzer Prize winning 'Ironweed' is about him, and that all the books standalone despite being linked by setting and featuring some of the same characters, gives me hope that Vlautin's recommendation won't be too far off the mark.As for this book, if you get it as part of the first volume of The Albany Cycle like I did, you'll probably want to get your money's worth and read it, but if I was to go back a few days, I'd probably just start in with Ironweed and give this one a miss!

  • Ben
    2019-03-08 07:17

    As the pages went by I kept thinking this is a book that Scott Fitzgerald might have written if he'd grown up on the dole in upstate New York instead of traipsing around Princeton in his matched sweaters and scarves (just having a little fun, Francis). Anyway, great book. Highbrow, lowbrow, middle-brow. Example: "Screwing your wife is like striking out the pitcher." It's not funny ha-ha, but the more you think about it the better it is.Also notable for containing the phrase "no country for old men." I guess McCarthy is a fan.

  • Bro_Pair أعرف
    2019-03-02 06:15

    Not anywhere near as good as Ironweed, but a very good book. The dual narrative is kind of clunky, mainly because of how much more interesting the Billy Phelan story is than the somewhat muddled father-son issues of Martin Daugherty. But still, this is William Kennedy we're talking about here, and the book contains some absolutely beautiful sequences about bowling, poker, pool, the Albany nightlife, and the past.

  • Greg
    2019-03-09 08:38

    This was even better than the first. I quoted it several times on Facebook.

  • John Whiting
    2019-03-21 12:10

    Another wonderful read by Kennedy.

  • Chris Gager
    2019-03-17 11:20

    Starting tonight. I assume Billy is Francis' son???And he is indeed Francis' son and this book is happening at the same time as Ironweed - I think. Looks like I'm reading the Albany triology in reverse order. Not intentional... This book continues the sort of spirit-thing present in Ironweed. Kind of interesting. The lingo is a bit more peppy due to the social milieu being different from Ironweed. These folks may drink plenty but they're a functional bunch of wise guys, politicians, gamblers etc. .. . the Irish mafia of depression-era Albany. The device of writing two books with interconnecting characters and timelines was also used by Marilynne Robinson for Home and Gilead.- So far neither Martin nor Billy are as compelling and forceful characters as Francis. Still, this book is a very good reading experience.- The cover of my book is different from any shown by G'reads. It shows a guy playing pool but it's a different picture!Read more last night. Martin has fallen into the background for now as all the attention's on Billy. An interesting character but also very much limited by his psychic self-protection. We can admire some things about a capable survivor but find him kind of dull as a human being.I was ready to downgrade the rating to 3* after a long stretch featuring Martin and his unfathomable Catholic grief/guilt/sex stuff, but it finished strong with a return of Francis and Billy's banishment and resurrection courtesy of a heroic act by Martin. Generally speaking the book's strongest in its illumination of Albany's dark night life. But... that's of limited appeal. The writing is excellent of course. The whole Martin/Catholic thing is a bore to me. The asides about Albany's history were well integrated and interesting and Billy's tale is enriched by the occasional presence of Francis. His story is at the center of the Ironweed, the third(and best) installment of the trilogy. It begins around the ending of this story. 3.75* rounds up to 4*. Notes...- The father stuff reminds me of Straight Man- There's a great paragraph near the end about The Open Boat... the greatest short story EVER!- Kennedy's prose is reminiscent of so many modern American(and English I suppose) writers: DeLillo, Pynchon, Wallace, Denis Johnson, Chabon etc. The poetic/dreamy-streamy stuff is borderline for me.- About Francis: "But Billy's mother said it was a weak thing to leave us and drink so much. A man shouldn't be weak like that, she said." - Wow! I can identify with that. My father abandoned two families by losing himself into the bottle. Awful...

  • Joe
    2019-03-01 05:19

    Ostensibly this is a book about hustlers, grifters, writers, and political bosses. And this book has all of that, taking place in 1930's Albany. But in reality this is a book about fathers and sons.The plot is driven by the kidnapping of Charlie Boy McCall, son of Bindy. Bindy and his brother Patsy run Albany through intimidation, mob-like tactics, and influencing elections. The McCalls enlist Billy Phelan to help unearth Morrie Berman's role in the plot. Billy's father left when he was nine years old, and returns to town now after living a hobo's life. Billy's a hustler, and the town of Albany has been his surrogate father since his dad left.Morrie, meanwhile, is estranged from his father, Jake. But although they don't have a relationship, they have similar agendas - revenge on the McCall's. Finally, there is Martin Daugherty. Martin's father was a writer of some renown, a publisher of plays. Martin is perhaps not that talented, and writes for the local newspaper. Perhaps to make up for his falling short to his father in talent, he instead beds his father's former mistress (and muse). Martin's own son, Peter, has joined the seminary, rejecting Martin's life among the seedier elements in Albany for a life "in the world but not part of it." While much of Martin's existence is being in the middle of all the goings-on in Albany.As for the writing, there is real poetry here, as when Kennedy describes a bowling alley and its denizens: "He looked the crowd over: men sitting among unswept papers, dust, and cigar butts, bathing in the raw incandescence of naked bulbs, surrounded by spittoons; a nocturnal bunch n shirtsleeves and baggy clothes, their hands full of meaningful drink, fixated on an ancient game with origins in Christian ritual, a game brought to this city centuries ago by nameless old Dutchmen and now a captive of the indoor sports of the city. the game abided in such windowless, smoky lofts as this one, which smelled of beer, cigar smoke and alley wax, an unhealthy ambiance which nevertheless nourished exquisite nighttime skills."If I found out that Richard Russo counted Kennedy as an influence, it would not surprise me one bit. This is good stuff, going much deeper than the surface story.

  • Tony Diaz
    2019-03-06 10:39

    I've always been impressed by the ease with which William Kennedy's prose moves from persuasively colloquial and naturalistic dialogue to poetic cadence. His ear for period argot is pitch-perfect, but the narrative frame belongs to a completely different--although complimentary--register. Kennedy's voice openly comments on character, moment, and action, conveying an ironic affection for spiritual outlaws: gamblers, gangsters, drunks, derelicts, and corrupt politicians. His attitude toward the past (and the past is what Kennedy is all about, but with a sense of humor and direction that Faulkner altogether lacked) is appreciative, not nostalgic, but his sympathy for old Albany's devils, rakes, and dropouts is undeniable. "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" turns that ironic, indulgent gaze on a pool shark, an energetically shrewd operator whose "native arrogance" inspires: "Men like Billy Phelan, forged in the brass of Broadway, send, in the time of their splendor, telegraphic statements of mission: I you bums, am a winner. And that message, however devoid of Christ-like other-cheekery, dooms the faint-hearted Scottys of the night, who must sludge along, never knowing how it feels to leave the spillover there on the floor, more where that came from pal. Leave it for the sweeps." But the action is beyond the game here, or in a different one, the self-assured winner's confrontation with something else, something uncomfortably close, and getting closer. The novel, and Billy, here provide a counterpoint to the character, themes and energy of the succeeding novel in the series, the widely-admired "Ironweed". And of all Kennedy's novels, these two are the most intimately, indissolubly linked. I'd argue that you can't fully appreciate either without the other. And I highly recommend both.

  • Gavin
    2019-03-16 12:38

    …some men moved through the daily sludge of their lives and then, with a stroke, cut away the sludge and transformed themselves. (2)(Billy was) a generalist, a man in need of the sweetness of miscellany. (6)… screwing your wife is like striking out the pitcher. (20)There’s no Santa Claus and there’s no devil. Your father is both. (24)(Edward Daugherty was) cosmically beyond manual labor... (40)It was Ham who saw Noah, his father, naked and drunk on wine, and Noah cursed Ham, while Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness and were blessed for it. Cursed for peering into the father’s soul through the pores. Blessed for covering the secrets of the father’s body with a blanket. Damn all who find me in my naked time. (105)“The fascists exist because of all those good people… full of passive hate, waiting for the catalyst to activate it.” (Jake Berman) (112)Seeing with my father’s eyes and knowing how he was victimized by glory and self-absorption, I now forgive the man his exorbitant expectations, his indifference, his absence. Once forgiven, it is a short walk to forgive myself for failing to penetrate such passionate complexity as his. Forgiving myself, I can again begin to love myself. (213)He thought he had eaten his fill, but satiation too has its limitations. (206)To free the children it is necessary to rupture the conspiracy against them. We are all in conspiracy against the children. Fathers, mothers, teachers, priests, bankers, politicians, gods, and prophets. For Abraham of the upraised knife, prototypical fascist father, Isaac was only a means to an enhanced status as a believer. Go fuck yourself with your knife, Abe. (267)

  • Dan
    2019-02-25 09:25

    The first William Kennedy book I read since Ironweed long ago, this was in response to seeing the Albany icon speak and show a documentary on Albany during the prohibition era (more so a biography of famed bootlegger Legs Diamond). Billy Phelan's Greatest Game is an entertaining read. A story with two main focuses, one being the well known fictional Albany hustler Billy Phelan, and the other following an older newspaper editor who is trying to lightly traverse a kidnapping of the son of a powerful Albany political family (the McCalls). Unfortunately, the kidnapping story is rather weak and less then engaging throughout. But, this story is more about the characters, the city, and the beautiful ways in which Kennedy brings both to life. Phelan is a lost soul looking for his place in a town full of miscreants, political deviants, whores, and bums. He's well known as a pool, poker, and general parlor game hustler, and those passages are vividly told bringing the scenes and the city to life as Phelan interacts with Albany folk of all kinds. He befriends bartenders, neighbors, and bums all while learning of why his baseball hero father abandoned his family at such a young age. Billy eventually begins to work with friend and neighbor Martin Daugherty (the newsman mentioned above), as the two attempt to delicately solve the kidnapping case without angering the political bosses or their misinformed friends. It's a good read, and as a current Albanian, one that describes the city in a different light as to which it is now seen. Kennedy's prose about and passion for the city of Albany are unmistakable.

  • Nick
    2019-03-20 08:22

    I was not impressed with the last William Kennedy book I read, but I was not prepared for how truly terrible this one is. In fact I think this may be one of the worst-written books I have ever read. I hardly even know where to start with this; within the first five pages, we are told that someone "lived with his bowling ball as if it were a third testicle". Guys, if you keep your bowling ball down your pants, you are both very strong, and probably should see a mental health worker; also, if your testicles are so big that a bowling ball would plausibly be a third one, please consult a medical professional.Amazingly, it gets worse from here. I'll just pick out one of the passages that had me scratching my head, rolling my eyes, and sighing in annoyance:M"en like Billy Phelan, forged in the brass of Broadway, send, in the time of their splendor, telegraphic statements of mission: I, you bums, am a winner. And that message, however devoid of Christ-like other-cheekery, dooms the faint-hearted Scottys of the night, who must sludge along, never knowing how it feels to spill over with the small change of sassiness, how it feels to leave the spillover there on the floor, more where that came from, pal. Leave it for the sweeper."What the snot is happening in this paragraph? What is Billy leaving on the floor for the sweeper? Is he so overjoyed at being "devoid of Christ-like other-cheekery" that he's pooping his pants? Is he throwing up, like I wanted to reading this book? Was someone really paid to write "the small change of sassiness"? How did this happen? Why was this allowed to happen??F-

  • Ned
    2019-03-09 08:16

    I read sometimes to understand a place, and the people that make that place, in its time. I've never been to Albany, but this story reeks with the politics, cathollicism, drinking, gambling and all the attendant vices in late 30's urban America. Billy is the son of an absentee father who left home in shame (the main character in the final book in this Albany trilogy, Ironweed) and has bit parts as a bum. The dealings of seedy city and how the Irish machine operates is laid bare, told neatly by the newman (Martin Daugherty), another local irishman with father issues of his own, and of course Billy, the hustler with his own rigid code of honor. Kennedy's writing is superb, and character development is his forte (there are dozens, each more interesting and tawdry than the last). The conflict in Martin's head with his own fatherhood and his son's priestly interest is juxtaposed nicely against the wanton yet mystical intelligence of Billy, the street hustler. Most of these characters are first rate sinners, but their knowledge of it and the unseen forces which shape their destiny engages the intellect. But there is no shortage of raw, stinking humanity to balance the highminded, religious, mythic imagery,and a page turning plot to bring together this fine novel.And it is about fatherhood, redemption, and how fate hangs in seconds of random events.

  • Tom Gase
    2019-03-18 09:33

    Simply put, I loved this book. It's weird, I'm reading the Albany novels, as they're called, in reverse order after my friend recommended me to read "Ironweed" about a year and a half ago. I liked that one, so when she saw this book for me at the book fair, she gave it to me. A great find. A lot of the same characters from Ironweed, just wish I read all these in the correct order.All the characters are described very well in this book, including Billy Phelan, the main character. Very, very, very good descriptive writing of the character's surroundings. I could almost see myself being right there in the 1930's setting on the streets of Albany. A good story too that talks about a kidnapping and the characters surrounding it. A must read for any fiction fan, period. I don't give many five-star ratings, but there was no doubt with this one.

  • Brian Grover
    2019-03-04 10:18

    A fun read, albeit one that buries the lede a bit. The action here jumps back and forth between two protagonists - the young hustler (and title character), and a middle aged newspaper man who is basically used as a device to frame the larger story, which involves the kidnapping of a political boss's son in Depression-era Albany.The kidnapping story is, unfortunately, not that interesting, nor is the journalist. All of Phelan's passages are dynamite, though. He's equal parts Holden Caulfield and Philip Marlowe, and shadowing him as he navigates his way through back alley poker games, high stakes pool matches, and run-ins with wise guys and street hoods is a tremendous amount of fun.I know there are a handful of books that Kennedy wrote about Albany, and if Phelan is a recurring character, I'll be back at some point to read more of his exploits.

  • Mike
    2019-02-20 10:18

    This style of writing annoys me no end. I don't really want to get into it right now (ask me sometime, maybe over a few beers). I once read Ironweed all the way the through and hated it and wondered why I had persevered all the way through it. I guess because it had won the Pulitzer Prize and because two trustworthy sources personally recommended it. Then I read Legs once and was often slightly annoyed by it throughout, but the story ended up being ok and worth finishing. So I thought I would read this as a sort of a rubber match and then consider maybe re-reading Ironweed. No chance of that now. This is such contrived shallow bs garbage ... aaaa, don't even get me started on this, at least not in this forum.

  • Samantha Mason
    2019-03-13 12:39

    A significant improvement over the first in the trio, "Billy Phelan's Greatest Game" showcases William Kennedy's developing knack for poignancy in the mundane. The stereotypical exciting plot points take a backseat to the every day trappings of the main characters, who seem somehow less concerned with the underlying danger of their shady dealings and more with the minutia of living. Oddly refreshing, and leaves you with a sense that everyone is hustling for the same thing when stripped down to the core. A solid 3.5 stars in truth, leaving me looking forward to "Ironweed."

  • Emi Bevacqua
    2019-03-03 05:30

    I'm reading William Kennedy's Albany trilogy on Saul Bellow's recommendation but I'm struggling with it. I liked the first one (Legs Diamond) better than this second one (Billy Phelan), hopefully the third will be best (Ironweed). I wanted more of the characters from the first book to continue in the second, but only a couple of them were mentioned (Legs and Marcus) and only fleetingly. I guess their relationship is echoed by Billy Felon (Phelan)'s and the newspaper guy Martin Daugherty. Now I'll go see if there's another criminal-upright professional pairing in Ironweed.

  • Molly
    2019-03-15 09:34

    William Kennedy knows how to write. This was my third Kennedy novel; I've also read 'Quinn's Book' and 'Legs.' In each one, he manages to create something light -- almost magical, nearly whimsical, just lovely -- and dark -- shot through with the hardship and dirt and bone poverty of 1930's Albany, New York.Also, I picked this for my book group and it ended up being a great selection. We had a lively discussion and I think almost everyone felt kind of crushy about Billy. I've never seen that happen! Anyway, highly recommended.

  • Eric
    2019-03-03 12:23

    Should'a known. After re-reading "Legs" the rest of the trilogy would follow. A very sad sign that goodreads didn't even recognize the title when first tapped in. This may be the best of the three. About: fathers and sons, corruption and loyalty, games of chance/skill and life/death decisions. You can stick a vs. between each of those poles as well and that would be fine. Albany, Irish politics, Old and New Testament, sex and violence, the "sweetness of miscellany." It don't get no better.

  • Josh
    2019-03-20 09:10

    This is the second book of William Kennedy's acclaimed Albany cycle, which for some reason I've decided to read in reverse order with a 20 year gap in between novels. I was either hot or cold on this one. I think the author has a natural gift for dialogue, but there were too many peripheral characters and story lines left undeveloped for my taste. I think this is the rare case where a movie adaptation would be superior to the written work. Especially if they found a screenwriter to clear out some of the deadwood and give the piece a little more focus. Like maybe the guy who wrote Porky's.

  • J.M. Hushour
    2019-03-08 11:30

    The weakest of the "Albany" trilogy, but still a damn fine read. This middle volume focuses on Billy Phelan, son of Francis, the anti-hero of "Ironweed", and his meanderings through Depression-era Albany and his dealings with the local political bosses. Weirdly philosophical and other-worldly at times. It's sad that Kennedy seems to have fallen to the wayside.

  • Aaron
    2019-02-28 08:23

    Wow...just wow. I can't recommend this book, and its companion Ironweed enough! Fantastic writing, wonderful characters that I cared about, and it even filled in some of the gaps in Ironweed! I didn't love Legs (the third book in the trilogy) but these two books make me want to give it another read (someday...). I couldn't recommend these two classic Kennedy books enough! Please check em out!

  • Rory Costello
    2019-03-16 05:39

    Reading William Kennedy is like watching a great dancer or pitcher perform...high-level grace and skill somehow look easy.I relish the demimonde atmosphere in Kennedy's Albany, the lovable and not-so-lovable ruffians, the shady Irish pols, and the wry humor. Plus you get a subtle history lesson.

  • Joshua
    2019-02-22 11:18

    What I learned from this book: Gambling Irishmen rule. Hey, the Jews can't have all the fun. Slice-of-life isn't my favorite genre, but slice-of-life-plus-kidnapping-and-1930s-gangsters? Now we're talking.

  • Sam Harvey
    2019-03-01 12:33

    I'm in the process or rereading the earlier Albany books, and as great a book as Ironweed is, Billy Phelan's Greatest Game is just as good. Kennedy is one of the most under appreciated American masters.

  • Riley
    2019-03-15 06:33

    William Kennedy is one of the few fiction writers I've discovered since college whose works really grab me. This probably wasn't his best, but it is still a good read if you're looking for a tough-talking, street-smarts, Depression-era romp through a crowd of Albany characters.

  • Larry Scarzfava
    2019-03-06 08:13

    Another winner from Kennedy! This is the story of a young gambler and bookie living in Albany in the 1930's, and it's filled with interesting characters, absorbing conflict, and universal insights concerning life and love and loyalty. Kennedy is a master in the true sense of the word!

  • Tanya W
    2019-03-09 13:17

    This book follows Billy Phelan, a hustler, semi-bookie, and all around street smart guy as he tries to raise money to pay off a debt. Poker, pool, hustling, he does it all. Very sharp and the words flow well.

  • Drew
    2019-03-06 13:16

    do yourself a big favor and read it.

  • Claudia
    2019-02-20 09:11

    What do you get in a rough and tumble Depression-era Albany, NY? Pool sharks, poker bluffs, and Irish folks up to no good. This was a great book.