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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All so we can live this life I have no business in.", May 19, 2007
This review is from: White Guys: A Novel (Paperback)
In blue collar Winship, Massachusetts in the 1970s, Timmy O'Kane idolizes tough guy Billy Mogavero, fascinated by the easy danger he carries like a badge of honor. Twenty years later, Timmy has married to advantage, enjoying a more than comfortable suburban life, one he always believed unattainable. Eventually, even Billy has a chance at the gold ring, an opportunity for employment in mall development thanks to the intercession of his childhood friends. After marriage, Billy's only apparent disappointment is his wife's inability to carry a baby to term. As always, Timmy remains in thrall to Billy's magnetism, constantly judging the quality of his own life against his friend's casual cynicism: "I'm your little excursion into the world." But when Billy and his once-again pregnant wife are shot one night near the projects in South Boston, only Billy survives, the public stunned by the crime, especially when Billy describes the assailant as a black man. Suddenly Billy is a tragic hero, his boyhood friends rallying to his side, only Tim left with unanswered questions as the relationship between the two men is strained by unspoken doubts: "I played a game with darkness... I believed I could escape it if the actual thing came too near."

A subtle shift occurs in the friendship, reflected in Timmy's reluctance to confront the truth, hiding behind the growing problems of his own marriage and financial dependence on an interfering father-in-law. Never quite trusting his own definition of manhood, it is Tim's constant re-evaluation of his choices that leads to his undoing, his conscience piqued more by self-interest than a desire to do the right thing. Billy, the thorn in Tim's side, senses his friend's ambivalence, amused by it and counting on its predictability. Ultimately, Timmy's flaws are more defining than the virtues he clings to, father, husband, decent man. White Guys tells a uniquely American story, a hardscrabble life turned unbearably successful, a rebellious young man thrust into the stifling pretensions of upwardly-mobile Boston suburbia and unable to deal with success. Giardina plays his scenes with delicate irony, reinforcing the tension that underlies decisions, right and wrong, easy compromises that beget painful insights; there are many exquisitely nuanced details in the novel, youthful angst, extended family demands, the need to belong;

Regardless of any flaws in the criminal act around which the novel revolves, I found the dense social ramifications compelling, "White Guys" leaving poverty behind for better lives, albeit burdened by expectations and Billy and Timmy's complicated relationship, the almost adolescent fixation the more moderate Tim has with the rebellious, unpredictable nature of his friend, caught in the crosshairs of fate. Giardina perfectly captures the self-interest and reluctance of a city st5irred up by a violent crime, refusing to acknowledge the racial tension that rides just below the surface, the tiny self-deceptions that allow people to believe themselves honorable while acting in their own best interests. Based on a real-life 1989 murder in Boston, White Guys has the same complicated layers of friendship so eloquently evoked in Mystic River, defined by time and place, class and aspirations. Luan Gaines/2007.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very provocative, but ultimately muddled, December 28, 2006
This review is from: White Guys: A Novel (Hardcover)
I was lucky enough to read this novel (which I strongly recommend) without having known about the real-life murder on which it's based. If you're tempted to read it and don't know about that murder yet either, I suggest waiting until afterward to find out about it. The novel's suspense will work better for you that way, and anyway, it's not really about that murder; instead Giardina uses the actual event as a springboard for a thoughtful, poignantly observed consideration of what happens to markedly ethnic guys who climb up the social scale and become bleached-out "white guys." Race, class, gender, and sexuality all come into play in intriguing, believable, unforced ways, even if the final messages about how these whitened guys might have lived better lives gets muddled.

Early on, protagonist Timmy O'Kane is an Irish American member of a group of Italian American friends. As teenagers they horse around in familiar ways, but one boy, Billy, is rougher than the others, more virile, edgy, and dangerous. Soon, Billy stays behind and leads a working-class life while the others go from "wise guys" to "white guys," by going to college and then by finding appropriate houses, kids, and wives in the suburbs. As you might expect, these typical yuppies soon realize during regular steak-booze-and-cigar gatherings that despite their apparent success, something is missing. When they go back to The Neighborhood, one of them hires Billy for a cushy, high-paying job, and his gutsy, testicular swagger, combined with his ongoing ability to bed any woman he wants and his knowing scorn for the trappings of their emasculated lives, soon come to represent, especially for Timmy, the vitality that they've left behind.

I found the plot gripping and the characters very believable, especially Timmy and Billy (and the diminutive forms of their names nicely suggest how they never really become mature men). The detailed depictions of suburban life and its discontents felt very accurate. Also, deciding to make Timmy a sales rep for a college textbook publisher, whose cash cow is an outmoded, yet ever-popular literary anthology nicknamed "White Guys," is a clever metafictional move. But the novel's ultimate message about the costs of becoming white gets muddled when Billy emerges as the representative of what gets washed out by whiteness. If this symbolic figure and what he represents is so selfish, abusive, and ultimately worth leaving behind, then what's wrong with these guys becoming White Guys? The story ends with little sense of how real people like these guys, white or otherwise, could live a less angst-ridden, more genuine life. The root of such a life need not be located exclusively in a man's pants.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written!, November 4, 2007
This review is from: White Guys: A Novel (Paperback)
This book had been on my shelf for a couple months before I found time to read it. I'm very glad I did. Like some of the other reviewers, I had no idea that this was based on a real event...and it would not have made a difference to me. I absolutely loved this novel.

Giardina beautifully captures the conflicts of masculinity in his muscular prose, deftly hidden emotions and those that are painfully revealed, and the evolving relationships his characters display. Sometimes knowing too much about a story before reading it subtracts essential emotional elements from the telling, so I'm glad I didn't know beforehand that this was a fictionalized version of the tragic murder of Charles Stuart's wife. This allowed me to immerse myself in the tension, the poetry of the language, and the story itself.

Recommended.
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White Guys: A Novel
White Guys: A Novel by Anthony Giardina (Paperback - May 15, 2007)
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