(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Flaming Corsage begins with the “Love Nest Killings of 1908.” A cuckolded husband enters a Manhattan hotel suite; shoots his wife through the heart, killing her; fires two shots at Edward Daugherty, the novel’s protagonist, hitting him with one; sends Daugherty’s mistress scampering into the bedroom to hide; and kills himself by putting the revolver under his chin and pulling the trigger. Our initial reaction is that William Kennedy has left Albany behind and opted instead to tell a story that takes place in the more famous neighboring city to the south. After this brief and explosive opening, though, the novel moves backward in time to September, 1885, and readers have returned to Kennedy’s Albany.

Kennedy then introduces Edward Daugherty and Katrina Taylor, characters who should be familiar to enthusiastic readers of the Albany cycle. Edward, born to working-class Irish Catholic parents from North Albany, pursues and wins the hand of Katrina, the daughter of wealthy English-Dutch Episcopalians who are part of Albany’s ruling class. The class difference proves to be problematic, as both Katrina’s and Edward’s families reject their relationship. Eventually, though, Edward and Katrina are married, much to the chagrin of their parents, and their passionate and turbulent marriage is at the center of the novel.

Edward wins popularity as a playwright and sets out to heal the rift between the Daugherty and Taylor...

(The entire section is 588 words.)