Picks and Pans Review: O Albany!
by William Kennedy
Albany, the New York state capital, was chartered 298 years ago. It is the oldest continuous settlement of the 13 colonies. Originally Albany was a fort for Dutch fur traders. Today its history is symbolized by the run-down, once-magnificent railroad station that hasn't been used since 1968. There is, though, a spectacular new mall of modern architecture and sculpture commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller when he was governor. The city's life story becomes incredibly rich and intriguing in the hands of Kennedy, a novelist (Ironweed) and Albany newspaperman. His history talks about prohibition days, gangsters (Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano), churches and visitors (Abraham Lincoln's body lay in state on its way to Illinois because Albany was on the rail route to the burial site). Isaac Bashevis Singer makes an appearance, too, eating two fried eggs and drinking a cup of tea as he gazes at the mall. But the book is mostly about politics, for Albany has long had a machine that "is alive with pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth, but that is also overflowing with political wisdom, experience, power, aggression, money, Irishness, Catholicity, miscellaneous ethnicity, Democracy, the good will of the electorate..." This funny, charming, warm and irresistible urban biography is alive with those qualities too. It's a lucky town that has a William Kennedy to write its story. (Viking, $25)
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