In a timely review on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, author and scholar Brock Clarke interviewed Vice President Joseph Biden about the American political novel and paraphrased Biden as wanting “a novel featuring a man of experience, a man of appetites, a ridiculous man who somehow in not recognizing he was a ridiculous man, while at the same time somehow not taking himself too seriously, was somehow better or at any rate more interesting than all those other politicians who were more ridiculous for acting as though they were not.” “It sounds like you want a novel about Joe Biden,” Clarke said to Biden, who laughed, grew thoughtful and then replied, “Or Roscoe Conway, the titular hero of William Kennedy’s great 2002 novel, Roscoe.” Clarke concluded: “Vice President Biden is right … Roscoe is the new political novel you’ve been waiting for.”
"Roscoe is all about politicians but it’s not an argument. It is, I hope, a personification of political power in an ambiguously moral rascal."
— Edward Schwarzchild
Of Roscoe, Donna Seaman wrote in her (Booklist) (Booklist Top of the List: 2002 Booklist Editors’ Choice: Adult Books, 2002.) review, “In his seventh Albany novel … Kennedy continues to write vigorous, vivid, and exalted prose shaped by his fascination with the smoky and mysterious dimensions of life, the crooked underworld and the ghostly otherworld, and set to the haunting music of his wryly mythic and Shakespearean romanticism … Sexy and magical, muscular and comic, gritty and contemplative, Kennedy’s tale of a mendacious yet noble errant knight who never leaves home and yet ends up homeless is sublime.”
Thomas Mallon, in his review in The Atlantic, called the book “the best novel of city-hall politics to appear in (ages).” (The Atlantic | February 2002 | William Kennedy's Greatest Game | Mallon)
The British novelist Alan Sillitoe added his personal reaction: “I’m still reeling from the effect of Roscoe—you’ve made a whole world and I had the feeling I was living in it … this one is special, monolithic and unique. There’s no one to whom you can be compared.”
Kennedy spoke about politics in literature in a 2006 interview with novelist Edward Schwarzchild. “The struggle," he said, "is always the revelation of the individual spirit that you’re creating. That’s the mystery that prevails throughout the quest. And if there is a political theme it should be woven into the fabric of that spirit. Roscoe is all about politicians but it’s not an argument. It is, I hope, a personification of political power in an ambiguously moral rascal. There are a lot of those out there, and Roscoe illuminates one of (them).” (Edward Schwarzchild, William Kennedy interview in The Believer, 4:2 October 2006, p 77-86.)
Tom Deignan wrote in America, “With poetry and pizzazz, Kennedy transcends history as deftly as he captures it. In doing so he has created that rare thing: an enlightening, original book on (politics) (Tom Deignan in America 4/22/02) … Kennedy is at the top of his game with Roscoe.”
In one of his last letters, Saul Bellow called Roscoe Kennedy’s “most successful novel yet,” and expressed gratitude to Kennedy for uniting “your singular and wonderful view of things with the idea of a large fiction.”
Roscoe was chosen by the editors of Booklist as the best novel of 2002.
The editors of the New York Times Book Review chose it as one of the top three novels of 2002
Roscoe has been published in Cuba and England.