2007: 2. Charming Billy

“Somewhere in the Bronx, only twenty minutes or so from the cemetery, Maeve found a small bar-and-grill in a wooded alcove set well off  the street that was willing to serve the funeral party of forty-seven medium-rare roast beef and boiled potatoes and green been amadines, with fruit salad to begin and vanilla ice cream to go with the coffee.”

Charming Billy, Alice McDermott

Charming Billy is the story of a Billy Lynch, an alcoholic who has drunk himself to death, and of the people who loved him, and of the community he left behind. Billy was charming, and funny and unfathomably sad, and the book takes his story and expands it to tell the story of those who knew him and loved him, and what life was like in a small 1950’s Irish American community, and what life is like, generally, for us all. This was our January book club book, and even though our book club pulled the book apart, a bit, for what seemed like legitimate reasons (i.e. what was the point of the narrator telling the story to her husband?), more than a month after I read the book, what has stayed with me was how sad I found it – how it moved me. Now, I read it after a long day of travel, and a long occasionally stressful family vacation, but it made me cry, and it touched. Maybe because I come (at least in part) from a middle class Irish American background, and these people were familiar to me, maybe because I have an Uncle Billy who seems to be facing his own life in similarly destructive ways, maybe because McDermott captures the grace, and the tragedy, and the humor, and the joy that we all, every one of us, face in this world. This is a deeply human book, and it moved me.

Recommend for: People who like reading books about the human condition, people who grew up Irish Catholic in the 1950’s, people whose parents grew up Irish Catholic in the 1950’s (so we can know what make them tick!)

Date/Place Completed: 01/02/07, Flying from Atlanta to DC

Categories: Fiction, Book Club

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017