- Series: Picador Classics
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Picador; 1 Reprint edition (November 24, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312429428
- ISBN-13: 978-0312429423
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 391 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,079,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Charming Billy: A Novel (Picador Classics) Paperback – Large Print, November 24, 2009
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Charming Billy is a devastating account of the power of longing and lies, love's tenacity, and resignation's hold. Even at his funeral party, Billy Lynch's life remains up for debate. This soft-spoken, poetry lover's drinking was as legendary among his Queens, New York, family and friends as was his disappointment in love. But the latter, as his cousin Dennis knows, "was, after all, yet another sweet romance to preserve." After World War II, both young men had spent one sun-swept week on Long Island, renovating a house and falling in with two Irish sisters--nannies to a wealthy family--"marveling, marveling still, that this Eden was here, at the other end of the same island on which they had spent their lives."
By the end of their idyll, Billy and Eva were engaged, though she was set to return to County Wicklow. Determined to earn enough money to bring her, her family, and if necessary her entire village back to the U.S., Billy took two jobs, one of which would indenture him for years. But despite the money he sent, Eva never returned, and then was suddenly dead of pneumonia. The true tragedy is that she had simply kept her fare and married someone else--a secret Dennis keeps for the next 30 years as he watches Billy fall into a loveless marriage and the self-administered anesthesia of alcohol.
Alice McDermott's quiet, striking novel is a study of the lies that bind and the weight of familial wishes. She seems far less interested in the shock of revelation than in her characters' power to live through personal disaster. As Dennis's daughter pieces together Billy's real history, she also learns of the accommodations her own family had long made--and discovers that good intentions can be as destructive as the truth they mean to hide. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
When Billy, the glue of a tight Irish community in New York, dies as a result of lifelong alcohol abuse, mourners gather around roast beef and green bean amandine to tell tales and ruminate on his struggle for happiness after he lost his first love, Eva. With carefully drawn character studies and gentle probing, McDermott, who won the National Book Award for this work, masterfully weaves a subtle but tenacious web of relationships to explore the devastation of alcoholism, the loss of innocence, the daily practice of love, and the redeeming unity of family and friendship.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Here she takes on "Billy [who] had drunk himself to death. He had at some point, ripped apart, plowed through, as alcoholics tend to do, the great, deep, tightly woven fabric of affection that was some part of the emotional life, the life of love, of everyone in the room."[p 4] The "everyone in the room" here is a tavern where a lunch is served after Billy's funeral.
Billy's life is told by the daughter of Dennis one of Billy's cousins - the one most responsible for helping him through his life and for helping Billy's wife, Maeve, through life. "Billy was for me then merely one of my father's legion of cousins, distinguished not so much by his alcoholism (it had seemed to me that there were more alcoholics among them than there were Republicans, or even redheads)" [p 42]. Billy was indeed charming - everyone loved him and made allowances for him.
The pivotal moment in Billy's life - at least as viewed by his extended family - took place shortly after World War II. Dennis and Billy are out on Long Island working on a cottage owned by Dennis' mother's second husband. While at the beach one day they meet a couple of Irish girls. Billy falls in love with one, but she returns to Ireland. Billy sends her money hoping to bring her back. But she stays in Ireland and marries a man there. Dennis finds out. Trying to spare Billy's feelings, and trying to save Billy from years of gossip and talk, Dennis tells Billy the girl died. Billy eventually marries another woman, the plain Maeve, but he may still carry a flame for the Irish girl.
What course did this lie set Billy on? Would he have been an alcoholic anyway? How would his life have been different? As Dennis and another cousin, Dan Lynch, discuss the matter Dennis tries to close off that avenue of thought. "It might have been his natural disinclination to wholeheartedly agree with Dan Lynch about anything. It might have been his reluctance to consider the possibility that the lie he'd told Billy all those years ago was not merely the cause of thirty years of pointless grief but the very thing that had made Billy's life with Maeve possible, and fruitless."[p 193]
[END SPOILER ALERT]
I especially like McDermott's point of view telling this story. She starts with a few conversations between family members at the gatherings just after the death but in a blink switches back in time to the events being discussed. It's also interesting to hear the story told of a man who had just died - we can't see his point of view because he is gone. We see the life through the eyes of others.
I thoroughly enjoy Alice McDermott's studies on life and love. While this book is excellent, if you want to start with her try Someone.