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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 1998
I normally don't write reviews on the spot like this, but I finished Lisa Reardon's book last night and just can't get its characters out of my head. "Billy Dead" is more than just another gripping read or a voyeuristic look at the secret miseries of small-town deadbeats. It's the work of a compassionate, talented writer. This may be her first book, but Reardon's a seasoned artist, and what she's done in "Billy Dead" is to chart the terrible lives of her characters' lives without succumbing to easy moralizing or ironic commentary. But what really gives this book its power is her wonderful choice of narrator. For even at his most destructive Ray Johnson never stops seeing and understanding and feeling. He's a fully empathetic character. Maybe it's because we know him to be basically a sweet, vulnerable, honest man; or maybe it's because after experiencing his story we're forced to reconsider what really makes a "healthy" or "loving" relationship. Reardon's other stroke of mastery is the book's construction--how she slowly unpeels the deeper layers of Ray's story, dropping a hint here and there but taking her time to give us the details, so that the reader becomes fully involved in her story.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2001
Lisa Reardon's Billy Dead is about three siblings who stuggle in three different ways against the abuse that was heaped upon them as children and, in their own ways, they pile on others and themselves as adults. Billy is dead at the beginning of the book and the rest of the novel is narrated by his younger brother Ray and spans four days in actual time and many years in remembered time. The heart and hope of the story comes in the relationship between Ray and his sister, Jean (a wonderfully unique creation). This book is often disturbing but it is also quite compelling and there is much hard truth in its pages.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 1998
I am a counselor. A client handed me this book and said that I needed to read it. She was right. Somehow Lisa Reardon managed to make me understand things that I would normally not look at so sympathetically. It was as if I was sitting next to Ray and watching his world right along with him. The book simply can't be put down until it is finished. I look forward to more from Lisa Reardon.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 1998
I liked Billy Dead very much. I found myself not wanting the story to end as I neared the conclusion. The author, Lisa Reardon, writes the characters so vividly, i fell in love with them and wanted everything to turn out well.The main character, Ray, is a young man living in a small town. He is gentle and caring in a subtle way, but he also can be ruthless and confused...as well as self destructive. His older brother, Billy has just been killed and he has to cope with the flood of memories which have been unlocked by the murder. His family had always been the disfunctional, gossip fueling family, and Ray is in the middle of it as he struggles to save an unlikely and impossible love. I give it Four incredibly bright stars and I hope to read more from the very talented, Lisa Reardon. - Jen
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2002
This book is among the best I've ever read-- and I'm an avid reader. The author uses the voice of the brother of a dead man to tell the story of a highly dysfunctional family-- spoken from the perspective of a boy (now man) trying to cope with memories of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Her writing style is unique but quite appealing and helps the reader relate to the story teller even more. Somehow, he makes sense of his world and though his ultimate choice isn't exactly appropriate, you can understand how he got to it. As a psychologist, I found her portrayal of these characters to be brutally honest and it's a wonder the author hasn't experienced similar abuse herself since she speaks of the damage so accurately.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2001
Not for the faint of heart, BILLY DEAD is an incredible first novel.
In a small town in Michigan, the murder of Billy Johnson is a relief for some and the reliving of a nightmare of violence and cruelty for the Johnson family.
This novel is extremely dark and tragic-a story of the horrific abuse within a family, and the search for redemption.
I have never read a more disturbing novel than this one, nor have I ever read one as honest and gut-wrenching. Although the novel is shocking and often repulsive, Reardon's beautiful writing and her empathetic portrayal of Ray Johnson makes this book impossible to put down, and even harder to forget.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 1998
BILLY DEAD is a stunning piece of literature. Ray's stolid walk through the days following Billy's death is told with stark and evocative beauty. The family history that seeps up through the story illuminates a truth and horror that allows you to clearly see that this is a genuine love story. I devoured this book and finished it feeling hopeful.
I cannot wait for Ms. Reardon's next novel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 1999
As I happily read my way through this fascinating book, I, like any hopeless romantic, wanted our hero to end up carting his true love off to a pretty little cottage with a white picket fence. Every night for a week I would breathe a deep sigh, put the book aside, turn out the light, and drift off to sleep. But every night just before my brain and body yielded to a night of dreams, a jarring thought raced through my head. "Do you realize that you are hoping that our hero finds true happiness with his sister?"
The highly dysfunctional Johnson family fits nicely into the socio-economic class informally know as trailer trash. Somewhere in the history of this family an elder must have neglected to pass down information on whom one does and does not have sex with. As a result of this information gap the Johnsons seem to have established no restrictions on their sexual activity. Yet, seamy as this is, we develop a certain fondness for brother Ray, the book's narrator. Part of the reason for this is that Ray doesn't talk like someone with highly defective genes. Sure, the author has him using a few verbs in the wrong tense, but he still sounds as intelligent as many of my buddies in graduate school.
What is astounding is that Lisa Reardon, a New York City resident with a Master in Fine Arts from Yale School of Drama, would decide to get inside the head of a small town, good ole boy from rural Michigan. She does a pretty good job of it. You may well like reading it, but of course you can't tell anyone you enjoyed it. What would they think of you?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2002
I'll keep this short. What makes Billy Dead such a wonderful read is it's narrator, Ray. Ray is innocent and funny and whimsical. Even when we find that Ray has engaged in universally condemned conduct, the ultimate sin, still we love him, or at least I did. I found myself hoping he'd succeed in his "immoral" pursuit and live the rest of his sinful life in contentment and peace. Lisa Reardon brilliantly managed to create a persona so appealing that I would happily suspend the oldest taboo of them all, incest, just for him.
Even if you don't love Ray, this is one highly original story, written in unsparing, vivid detail, with provocative, authentic people.

I loved this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2002
Ray Johnson's brother Billy is found murdered.
Four days prior to the funeral, (during the police investigation) Ray relives the past and recalls the years of abuse received & given while growing up with Billy and their younger sister Jean.
Skipping around in time, he tells of terrible painful events with such raw honesty, even just reading about them is difficult.
At times, his own behaviour is so brutal & despicable, I would have normally despised him, but somehow the more I read, the more I found myself growing fond of him and his sister Jean.
Their love is so simple yet so complex and alarming. It was their way of keeping it together, their method of survival, through the years of hate & cruelty they constantly faced.
I loved Jean & Ray and finally accepted them for who they were. Their past made them what they became and clearly they can never be the same again.
This alarming and disturbing story will stay with me for a long long time... I am looking forward to read Lisa Reardon's other book Blameless.
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