Title: Charming Billy
Author: Alice McDermott
Genre: Current Lit
Page Count: 243
Publication Date: 1998
I attempted to read Charming Billy for the first time in 2015 in an Irish lit class in college. Five years ago, I had only made it to chapter two or three of the book before giving up on it entirely. I originally thought it was because I was lazy back then but, having now completed the story, I realize that it was more the book than I originally realized.
Charming Billy was lukewarm for me. The novel centers around a lie told by the narrator’s father back in the late 40’s to protect his romantic of a cousin, Billy, from unrequited love. Billy turns to alcohol as a way to cope with the lack of closure and dies an early death due to the drink.
Everything about this book reeks of stereotypical Irish Americana and that’s come from someone obsessed with her Irish roots. There’s alcoholism, Yeats poetry, redheads and Catholicism mentioned in almost every chapter. It felt like an over played song to me– nothing new or unexpected.
I did appreciate Alice McDermott’s ability to write about real love, the beautifully ordinary love that is often overlooked in storybooks. Each generation, going back to the narrator’s grandparents, has at least one love story told. There’s a love created out of a need to survive, a love that broke the rules, and a love that grows over time. My favorite story told in the book is that of the narrator’s grandmother– it’s the most believable and the most heart-wrenching. Her grandmother, though depicted as a bitter woman throughout the whole novel, is a true depiction of the American Dream and one that I feel deserved more than a chapter of this 243-page book.
While there are glimmers of brilliance in this work, it’s just a story focused on faith and foolishness– and maybe about how they can often be one in the same.
You can purchase Charming Billy here if you are interested in reading. I will be reviewing Dearly: New Poems by Margaret Atwood for the month of April, which you can purchase here if you’d like to read along. The review will be up April 26th. Stay tuned for this month’s florilegium, coming out this Sunday! Happy reading!