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Billy Bathgate: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – June 29, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812981170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812981179
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In the Bronx of the 1930s, 15-year-old Billy Bathgate hooks up with a legendary mobster, Dutch Schultz. Schultz becomes an unlikely surrogate parent to the boy, introducing him to the ways of the world and training Billy to follow in his footsteps. After Billy falls for Schulz's latest girlfriend, he begins to question the actions of the mob he was so eager to join. As he seeks to protect the young woman, he gains strength in following his own heart and makes a courageous passage from boyhood to adulthood. E.L Doctorow won the 1990 PEN/Faulkner Award for this novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the poorest part of the Bronx, in the depths of the Depression, a teenage, fatherless street kid who will adopt the name Billy Bathgate comes to the attention of his idol, master gangster Dutch Schultz. Resourceful, brash, daring and brave, the narrator understands that morality will have no influence in lifting him from his poverty; by hitching his wagon to the mobster's star he can hope to provide his gentle, mad mother and himself with a way to rise out of their desolate existence. The astonishing story of Billy's apprenticeship to Shultz and his education at the hands of the mobster's minions is related by Doctorow with masterful skill, grace and lucidity of prose, inspired inventiveness of scene and true-voiced dialogue. Equally a rollicking adventure and a cautionary tale, both parable of the prodigal son and poignant coming-of-age story, it is mesmerizing reading that soars from the shocking first scene of a gangland execution through episodes of horror, hilarity and sudden, deepening insights. In his odyssey, Billy will learn about human nature as well as extortion and policy rackets; he will travel to the upstate rural community of Onandaga where Schultz will be brought to trial by special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey; he will be exposed to the world of Park Avenue socialites; he will acquire a gun and better manners; he will discover that the "glamor and class" of a big time racketeer is achieved through good business methods as well as violence; he will comprehend the seamy relationship between criminals and politicians, and he will fall in love. Perhaps the most affecting example of the dichotomy that rules his life occurs when, after having witnessed the most vicious brutalities, he returns to the Bronx and goes shopping with his mother for his first suit. In this stunning, lyrical novel, Doctorow has perfected the narrative voice of a lower-class boy encountering the world (surpassing those of the protagonists of Ragtime , Loon Lake and World's Fair ). He falters only in a sentimental, almost fairytale ending that belies the harsh realities by which the narrative is propelled. But so fine and convincing is this story that the reader accepts in its entirety Doctorow's mythical vision, a dark version of the Horatio Alger fable related with a brilliant twist. 100,000 first printing; first serial to GQ and Granta; film rights to Touchstone/Disney; BOMC dual main selection; QPBC featured alternate; major ad/promo.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Like Nabokov, stunning in its prose.
C. L Wilson
This novel is very well written and fleshes out the character of Billy Bathgate as presented in the film of the same name.
Gregory V.
Some readers thought that the ending was predictable,but I don't agree.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on October 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
BILLY BATHGATE is E.L. Doctrow's poignant look at Depression era gangsterism through the eyes of the young boy after whom the book is named. Much to Doctrow's credit, there is no sentimentalizing or romanticizing of criminals here. Almost legendary gangster, Dutch Schultz, who befriends Billy, is depicted clearly as a vicious, sadistic thug teetering on the edge of insanity.

Although it is the Dutchman who takes in the boy, Billy is drawn to Dutch's moll sexually, and to the gang's bookkeeper, Otto Berman, emotionally. Otto is the real key to the book. Billy, like Johnson's Boswell, is drawn to the accountant and his philosophy. Broken down, Otto explains to the boy that things like love, loyalty, knowledge, and spirit are meaningless--none of them can be proven. They are all bound by words. To Otto, words are just words. Numbers, however, are the only true language. One and one will always be two. Numbers never lie. (Spoken like a true accountant.) This has an enormous impact on a young boy whose mother is one step away from the nuthouse, and whose father took off years earlier.

I gave this book four stars because I had just finished re-reading RAGTIME, and this came up a little short. On the other hand, maybe RAGTIME was too high a standard to hold it up to. In any event, this is not your typical gangster novel, as I hope this review has made apparent. It is a complex and profound book and should satisfy the most literary appetite.

Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Krichman on April 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
Rarely does an award-winning work of literature read as easily as a Michael Crichton paperback. If you are in the mood for a quick read, you would normally turn to the pop fiction selections on your bookshelf and find something mindless and plot driven. If you are looking for a higher level of quality, such as a Pen/Faulker Award winner, you perhaps consciously prepare yourself for the added effort that reading a meaningful, elaborate, character-driven novel entails. You will almost certainly be rewarded for the effort, but it is an effort nonetheless. But in Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow blends the depth, substance, and beauty of a quality work of literature with the pace, suspense, and rhythm of a mafia thriller. The result is an imminently readable novel that is also an important contribution to 20th century fiction.
The plot itself bears much resemblance to countless other mafia stories, filled with shady characters, ruthless hit men, brutal murders, bribing of government officials, and steamy love affairs. The uniqueness lies in the fact that the narrator is a 15-year-old boy, Billy, eager to earn the trust of Dutch Schultz, the mafia kingpin, and his gang. He quickly progresses from simple errand boy, buying cigarettes and coffee, to a position of modest responsibility in this intriguing world of crime. Through Billy's somewhat naïve, innocent eyes, we observe Dutch as he manages his empire, carries out hits against his enemies and disloyal employees, and struggles to evade the attempts of law enforcement to bring him down. The story takes us from New York City to Onondoga, a small town where Dutch's trial eventually takes place. And in the process, we witness the growth of a boy into a young man as he enters a world of big money, intense loyalty, and vindictive violence.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stuart W. Mirsky on October 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
An excellent tale of an aspiring young street tough's initiation into the dangers and excitment of the gangster life, circa the 1930's, this book captures its era and the personalities it portrays with an astonishing verve and veracity. The tone and "voice" feel right, speeding along brilliantly, while the tale, of a young fellow's awakening from gawking naivete to a certain street-smart cynicism, rings remarkably true. If there is a reason for reading fiction today, BILLY BATHGATE offers the perfect example: it is a means for carrying us into places and times now long gone which still may resonate in the contemporary soul. While the hero is a trifle too cloying for my tastes and seems rather more inured to the moral chaos he sees around him than his apparent sensibility suggests he should be, this is, finally, a small fault to find with such a deflty turned tale. Progressing from a 15-year old loner on street corners to mascot of the Dutch Schultz gang, as they hurtle down the spiral of their final decline, the self-named Billy Bathgate insinuates himself into the precarious confidences of this remakably unstable crew. Schultz, himself, the erratic gang leader, has already slipped into a dangerous condition of paranoia and isolation and his hangers-on live from moment to moment in fearful unease, unable to check the excesses of their leader or to separate themselves from him. Billy finds their life oddly mesmerizing as he gets sucked into witnessing outbursts of murder and coldly planned gangland executions, until his role brings him into the orbit of a flighty, if beautiful, society doll. Then a burgeoning adolescent crush seems to awaken him to what he has done and, as in a dream, he begins to seek a way out.Read more ›
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More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's novels include The March, City of God, The Waterworks, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World's Fair, and Billy Bathgate. His work has been published in thirty-two languages. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. E. L. Doctorow lives in New York.

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Billy Bathgate: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)
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