Year 4, Book 37

37. Charming Billy by Alice McDermott
For the first time in awhile this book wasn’t for one of my book clubs. It’s too bad because as soon as I finished it, I really wanted to talk about it with someone. Alice McDermott did a reading at the library where I work about a month ago. She read a short story that is soon to be published. I really liked it and since I normally am not a fan of short stories, I decided it was high time I checked out some of her novels. I started with Charming Billy because it is probably her most well-known. The story starts at Billy’s funeral and then weaves back and forth through time with telling of Billy’s life from the time he returned from WWII until his death from alcoholism. Part of the story are told by people attending the funeral who reminisce about Billy and others are narrated by the daughter of Billy’s cousin Dennis. The parts narrated by the daughter threw me sometimes because it wasn’t always obvious that she was narrating and then it was hard to figure out who some of the pronouns were referring to. Although that was a bit awkward at times, it didn’t detract much from the narrative for me. After hearing McDermott read some of her work in person I could really hear her voice in this book. I found it to be beautifully written and very lyrical. And some of the descriptions of mundane things enriched it for me, instead of seeming superfluous as things like that can do at the hands of lesser writer. Ultimately I viewed the book as asking the question whether we are destined to be what we become or if things might have been different if circumstances had been different. That was what I really wanted to discuss when I was done with the book. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes character based literary fiction. I give it a 9 out of 10.

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