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Quinn's Book Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Many critics have argued that Quinn’s Book should not be considered a part of Kennedy’s Albany cycle. In both style and setting, Quinn’s Book stands apart from Kennedy’s previous works. Though set in Albany, Quinn’s Book shows New York’s capital city as it was in the nineteenth century and marks a break from Kennedy’s previous preoccupation with twentieth century Albany. The style of writing also looks back to an earlier time, often imitating the melodramatic, convoluted rhetoric typical of nineteenth century prose.

Quinn’s Book is a fictional autobiography narrated by Daniel Quinn, who at the start of the book is a fourteen-year-old skiffman on the Hudson River. The book opens on a cataclysmic day in Albany in 1849. A boat crossing the Hudson capsizes after being struck by an ice floe. The legendary actress-courtesan Magdalena Colon, better known as La Ultima, is one of the ill-fated passengers thrown overboard to her death. Her body is heroically pulled from the icy waters by young Daniel’s boss, John the Brawn. Daniel, on a rescue mission of his own, assists La Ultima’s bewitching twelve-year-old niece, Maud Fallon, to safety. Meanwhile, a nearby bridge collapses and more than a hundred onlookers plunge into the frozen Hudson. Calamities continue as the rush of ice causes a tidal wave that, in turn, starts a fire raging through the city. Amid the chaos, young Daniel, Maud, and John seek refuge and rush La Ultima’s body to the grand mansion of one of Albany’s oldest Dutch families. Here, in a frenzy of necrophilia, John resuscitates La Ultima through rigorous intercourse as Daniel and Maud look on with great fascination.

With this apocalyptic start, the novel is set in motion. Daniel reminisces, with great energy, about this important life-changing day, the day he met and fell in love with the beautiful Maud. The rest of the novel tells of Daniel’s fifteen-year artistic and romantic quest as he struggles to become a writer...

(The entire section is 493 words.)