Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes continues William Kennedy's exploration of Albany, New York's political and street life with a substantial excursion in the first portion of the book into the world of Castro's revolution in Cuba and then, some years later, a reintegration of that setting into the 1969 killing of Robert Kennedy and the concommitant urban unrest that already was boiling in Albany after the assassination of Martin Luther King.
This is a loose novel full of short, declarative sentences, smart talk, wise guys, quasi-magical witches and beautiful women and cameo appearances by the likes of Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway.
Castro is thinly drawn, although Daniel Quinn's efforts to interview him while he is still fighting in the bush, serves as a focal point for part I. Implicitly there is a comparison between between his fight for justice and that of King and Kennedy, but the comparison really is only implicit. Hemingway makes a more extended appearance, and he seems accurately and incisively presented, although why he does what he does, and what he's doing in the novel, doesn't make much sense. He was a bully and a snot, and his references to himself as Dr. Hemigstein smell a bit of anti-Semitism, or at the least, a distaste for psychoanlysis and anything that isn't true and fine and beautiful.
To make a longer story shorter, Quinn meets an unbelievably sensual, sexual, impulsive Cuban named Renata--from a good family, no less--and marries her within a few days of their first encounter. She then is separated from him, abused by the police, and eventually, some lovers later, returns to Quinn's embrace and, ultimately, his life as a reporter in Albany.
On the day in question--which is the heart of the novel--there's unrest in Albany, Quinn's Alzheimer-plagued father has a good time, a concert is played by a dying pianist, Renata's niece is burned along with her rabble-rousing African-American lover, and a large sum of drug money appears...which no one seems to want. (Hey, I'll take it.)
So this isn't the poetically compressed and moving Kennedy of Ironweed. Let's get that out of the way. What is it? Well, it's fun because it's so expertly written and staged, and it's a little confusing because too much happens to too many characters the reader (or this reader) doesn't really understand or identify with.
I remember once having a discussion with a German Faulkner expert who thought that The Reivers was perhaps one of Faulkner's greatest works. Well, that's not the case, and this book is sort of an end-of-career, let's have fun novel by Kennedy.
If you already like Kennedy, you'll want to read it. That's why I read it. If you find yourself impatiently wondering why you're continuing to read it, you probably will be getting some gratification from Kennedy's quick dialogue and his romantic moments of revelation (they come about every three pages and don't always involve sex, many of them are built on a foundation of nostalgia and remembered snatches of song from the thirties and forties.)
In his extensive acknowledgements, Kennedy thanks dozens of Cubans and Americans and cites quite a few rather heavy and obscure books about Cuba and its history. This suggests he took the work quite seriously, but he wrote it comically and overstuffed it with subplots that prevented him from really examining what he had in mind.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund