All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott

Charming Billy, written by Alice McDermott, is a story about resignation and faith, about having too little and about having enough. The story opens in a small Bronx restaurant at a dinner following the funeral of Billy Lynch. Billy was charming, funny, and warm. His mourners recall his short notes that served as letters, written on scraps of paper and mailed to family and friends. They tell stories about his generosity and his commitment. But his drinking problem is the undercurrent at the table; the alcoholism that led to his death. The mourners speculate that his drinking was to assuage the pain of losing his true love to pneumonia before she could come to America from Ireland, a love so deep he never recovered from it, despite his widow’s presence at the table.

Billy’s cousin Dennis holds a secret about Eve, the Irish girl they met one summer as younger men, the one who accepted an engagement ring from Billy before she returned home to Ireland. Dennis knows that Billy’s “true love” accepted the money Billy worked two jobs to earn in order to open a gas station and cafĂ© with her new husband in Ireland. When he learns of her deception, Eve’s sister tells Dennis in disgust that “she is dead to me.” Dennis decides then to tell Billy that Eve died of pneumonia, rather than letting him think Eve has deceived him. Better to have been loved than to have been spurned.

It is years before Billy learns the truth, but this is also a secret the men hold. Billy’s mourners make him into a tragic character who never had a real marriage to Maeve, driven to drink by his sudden and tragic loss of Eve. Billy, who was never able to be sober because of his lifelong pain. As one told Dennis, “I’ve always said that it’s the ones who are always joking are the ones who feel things more deeply than the rest of us.” Billy seemed to accept the deceit, resigned to his life. And the long-suffering Maeve accepted her fate, as the wife of a man who came home drunk almost every night. But, as Danny’s mother would say, “Isn’t enough as good as a feast?”

Charming Billy won the National Book Award and was published in 1998 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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