Very Old Bones Summary
William Kennedy

Everything you need to understand or teach Very Old Bones by William Kennedy.

  • Very Old Bones Summary & Study Guide

Very Old Bones Summary

Very Old Bones continues the saga of the Irish-American Phelan and Quinn families that runs through Ironweed (1983), Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978), and Quinn's Book (1988).

Unlike those earlier novels, Very Old Bones de-emphasizes Albany as spiritual and historical place and focusses instead on the genetic, psychological, and family forces that shape character and thus fate in three generations of these families. "We are never without the overcoats, however lice-ridden, of our ancestors" ruefully muses the narrator and central character Orson Purcell as he alludes to the ofttimes contaminated family inheritance we inevitably come to possess.

The title Very Old Bones suggests the metaphoric skeletons within the Phelan family history that drove away the older brothers Francis and Peter, and reduced those remaining in the home on Colonie Street to unfulfilled, unhappy lives. Orson will characterize the family situation as "wreckage . . .

left behind in the wake...

(read more from the Short Guide)