Charming Billy
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Charming Billy

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  5,897 ratings  ·  513 reviews
The late Billy Lynch's family and friends gather at a small bar and grill in the Bronx to remember better times. His widow, Maeve, is there and everyone admires the way she is holding up, just as they always admired the way she cared for Billy after the alcohol had ruined him. But one cannot think of Billy without saying at some point, 'There was that girl'. On Long Island...more
Published 1998 (first published December 1st 1997)
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The House on Prospect by Bernadette  WalshBrooklyn by Colm TóibínGalway Bay by Mary Pat KellyCharming Billy by Alice McDermottThe Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury
Irish-American Experience
4th out of 48 books — 30 voters
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National Book Award Winners
54th out of 101 books — 101 voters


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Audrey
Jun 30, 2007 Audrey rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people with extra time on their hands
Charming Billy is what happens when you stop in the library on a whim, before you have registered at Goodreads and before you have an idea of what you want to read, and you find the book with the pretty cover, in this case, the one with a shiny golden seal that says "National Book Award Winner." It is similar to the way in which I shop for wine. And certainly every bottle of wine has something to commend it--alcohol, at least. So, too, does this book have facets to commend it: clean writing, eas...more
Christiane
I confess, I have OWNED this book for a couple of years. I started it twice, thinking an award-winning book should surely win me, but both times set it aside. But after reading McDermott's "After This" recently, I picked up "Charming Billy" again. I can only think that the books we respond to are inextricably related to whatever consciousness or thoughtfulness or even patience with life we are currently experiencing. This all to say that this time around, I loved this book. The writing is so bea...more
Rebecca
Charming Billy is more sculpture than novel. The characters don’t so much develop as exist like creatures suspended in amber, unyielding to the chaos of time, love, and grief. Unlike traditional stories chronicling how characters react to stimuli, studies in personal evolution, this book illustrates the impossibility, for better or worse, of change. The advancement of time only reinforces the essential substance of character and temperament.

The novel opens with a debate at Billy’s funeral servi...more
Deirdre
thoughts i didn't know i shared with every other child of an irish american growing up in the five boroughs
Robin
This was a slow read for a bit and then you start to get involved with the characters. Billy had his faults as an alcoholic but he was very loving and very well loved in return. He had a sad life in many respects, but he passed on his love to others,unafraid, in ways that were unique and lovely. Alice McDermott brings it all together at the end. She has us contemplate our heritage, our family and all those that have passed on when she writes through Billy:"Another thing about Ireland, we're all...more
Emily
Apr 24, 2009 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
First of all, Billy's family and friends have gathered in a Bronx bar for the first 24 pages of the book - thats it! Then they go to the widow's house for a few chapters, and the rest of it is a bunch of flashbacks. Secondly - Billy was a romantic? A romantic? Billy was a lousy drunk whose family continually tried to get help for him which he threw back in their face.

The majority of this story is told from the point of view of Billy's cousin Dennis' daughter, whom is never named, as she is relay...more
Clare
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carla
Maybe I'm getting impatient as I age, but like so many recent novels, this one seemed about 100 pages too long to me. I was done with the story by the time of the family gathering after the post-funeral reception. The writing became repetitive after that.

The story was pretty good at the beginning, though, and the descriptions of the post-war days were beautiful. Having been raised in an Irish Catholic family, with lots of great aunts and great uncles and assorted relatives showing up whenever we...more
Nostromo
If despair is the only unforgivable sin, than the characters in Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy have freely damned themselves to hell. On the plus-side, Charming Billy has great nostalgic descriptions of New York City and its Irish-Catholic community. McDermott weaves a story centered on Billy and the long-term effects of the loss of his summer heart throb Eva. The novel skillfully jumps from era to era revealing the ramifications of Eva’s loss on Billy and others. But the book gets harder and...more
Sarah Draheim
I haven't read a book I liked less.

This, however, may not be a reflection on the author. Maybe I just didn't "get it." For a story with some legs - old drunk guy who had a great-looking fiance who suddenly died, but was not dead and instead bought a gas station - I felt like it was crippled by a smattering of things - It was very bland, like undressed cooked Velveeta's and Cheese, except for I'd rather eat a boxes of that until I explode and form one big, floppy, wet shell, than ever read anoth...more
Janet Gardner
Charming, much-beloved Billy Flynn has finally had one too many once too often and (as everyone knew he someday would) has drunk himself to death. His friends and family gather in a restaurant after the funeral, then move on to the widow's house, and stories of Billy flow like the whiskey that killed him. A picture emerges of his life, and especially of the tragedy that haunted it for decades: the death of the young woman he fell in love with in his youth and wanted to marry. Or...is it possible...more
Adam Rabiner
Judging from the reviews on Amazon.com, readers either really liked this book and gave it 5 stars or didn't like it at all and gave it one or two. I fall in the former camp. Those who didn't like the book said it was "confusing", complained that the narrator was a minor character directing her discourse to her husband who barely makes an appearance in the book. It lacked plot and a strong story line. I agree that here and there it was a bit confusing but found the novel moved along and held my i...more
Labmom
Alice McDermott wants desperately to be Anne Tyler; where Tyler's characters are irritating but real, McDermott's are tedious and stereotypical; Tyler's writing is clear and insightful, McDermott's is long-winded and boring. Both "Charming Billy" and "At Weddings and Wakes" are about passive-aggressive, drunken Irish-Americans, and couldn't be more boring - it's almost as if she purposely ignored the more interesting characters and aspects of their lives. I've no idea why she is loved by critics...more
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Not bad, not great. I probably had picked it up at a book fair because it was a National Book Award winner. A melancholy poignant story. Very (American) Irish. While focusing mainly on the jolly (on the outside) drunk Billy Lynch, it is told through Billy's best friend Dennis's daughter's eyes. As it winds back through time, we see into the lives and marriages of many people, and their love and faith or lack of those.

I can see that some of the language here could be very touching and beautiful,...more
Jennifer
So the first chapter was incredible and it was only improved upon with the final chapter. I would add in quotes and all that but really, that whole final chapter was just amazing with the exception of a few lines that were even better than that.

The second paragraph of final chapter included this which I have to note:
"The gravel driveway was scattered with puddles. The road out back was still black from all the rain that had guaranteed Billy's swift ascent into heaven, but it was drying out now,...more
Sheryl
This book really deserves five stars, but it was an uncomfortable book to read, and often confusing. It opens with Billy's funeral, told in the first person, and it takes awhile to figure out who the narrator is, and not until the end do we know who the story is being told to. But that is part of the story.

Billy died from severe alcoholism, and his friends and family spent much of their lives trying to protect him from himself. But their love for him is apparent in the stories they tell, and in...more
Stevecrandell
A vivid and remarkable story, immediately one of my all-time favorites. The first chapter reveals a fascinating secret to set the plot in motion. More important, it sets a tone of glances and asides and perfect declarations – these characters are as alive and identifiable as any I’ve ever read.

The story is set in New York City, amidst a close-knit Irish Catholic clan. Billy Lynch has drunk himself to death, but he lives on through the remembrances of those who knew him. He casts a wide arc of s...more
Laurel
A book that is depressing but filled with enough quotable philosophy of life to keep me reading. Great character development and alcoholic Billy is charming.
Chris Gager
Starting tonight on my second Alice M. book. "After This" was excellent. Don't see the cover of "my" library edition here.

NOW I'm starting this book. Back in familiar McDermott territory: Long Island Irish folk after WWII. This will evidently be the story of a lovable, low-bottom boozer. Sounds very much like my father though he was further up the socio-economic chain than Billy... until my mother and my step-mother left him. Not so much after that. He drank and smoked himself right into an earl...more
Laura Rittenhouse
A really lovely book. The pace and style had me sinking into the lives of an extended family of Irish immigrants in New York. Billy, though not the main character (the book is primarily told in the first person by the daughter of one of Billy's cousins), is the string that links the parts of the story together. The book begins with the wake of Billy and then bounces fairly randomly through most of Billy's adult life with spin-offs into the lives of a mixed-bag of characters. It's a huge nod to t...more
Ron Charles
No one was prepared for "Charming Billing" to win the National Book Award. Not even the woman who wrote it.

When the judge called Alice McDermott to the stage at last week's ceremony in New York, the applause faded awkwardly as she wended her way through the tables of America's most famous authors and publishers. "I'm sorry it took me so long to get up here," she said. "I was writing my acceptance speech."

Who can blame her for procrastinating? One of her competitors, Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full,"...more
Tony
McDermott, Alice. CHARMING BILLY. (1998). *****.
An excellent novel about first loves and family which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1998. The story is told told by the daughter of one of the main characters, with an understanding that seems to grow with each advancing year. We first meet Billy Lynch at his funeral. We don’t meet him, actually, but we meet who his friends thought he was during his life. All his friends knew that he had died because of drink – on purpose. When Billy...more
Hazel
Not quite sure why this book is an award winning book, perhaps I just didn't get the point of it. The characters were well written and developed but there just did not seem much of a story to it. What story there was could have been told in a quarter of the pages that this book has.



It was a struggle to get into as I was never quite sure what time period they were in as the author kept jumping back and forwards within chapters. It would have probably worked better if she had kept the to'ing and...more
Stephanie
I had to decide if my 3.5 stars should be three or four stars on the ranking and I chose to go high with four because of interesting topics/thoughts this book continues to challenge me to think about.

At first, I felt the book was a little more descriptive about every little thing than I really needed and, honestly, I wasn't really sure what story the book was trying to tell at first. But I stuck with it and I really did find it an interesting story and as previously mentioned, through provoking....more
Danielle
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....more
Amanda
The book starts out with family members gathering together at a pub in the Bronx for the wake (they are Irish-American) of Billy Lynch. Yes, the charming Billy of the title is dead. He's left behind his wife Maeve, no children, but a slew of other family members. Maeve is holding up and even has a drink to toast her husband...which is noticeable since Maeve doesn't normally drink and since Billy died from alcoholism. And of course, as all big families do...gossip abounds. The main topic, of cour...more
Bobbi Woods
This is the story of Billy Lynch, an Irish American from Queens, NY and his many family members and friends. Billy was jilted as a young man and never quite got over the pain, as he drank himself to death many years later. The story was told from the point of view of Billy's cousin Dennis' daughter, which is really confusing and difficult to figure out until at least halfway through the story.

I noticed that both descriptions of this novel (the one on Goodreads and the one on the back cover of th...more
Deb
Although I could relate to the time/places in the novel (my mom is an Irish Catholic from Queens of the narrator's generation, I grew up in eastern Suffolk County on LI, have been to Ireland and saw my grandfather and uncles faces everywhere!) I found it heavy and sad. Realistic descriptions painted, e.g. , "My parents, I have to believe, had a marriage that ran the typical course from early infatuation to serious love to affection occasionally diminished by impatience and disagreement, bolstere...more
Matt
I think most people would agree, this book is mostly a testament to craft, to finding a way to loop events and characters in and out of a collective experience (a wake, mostly). It's incredibly solid at that, and maybe sort of a little surprising at how bitter at times the portrait of Irish-American life is-- this isn't a romantic portrait, and I wonder about how people who are used to more romantic approaches to this subject matter will feel.

So I'm going to run an experiment, and give the book...more
Andrew Herren
I'll start by saying that I bought this book because I read That Night by AM a few years back and I really liked it. She is a very good writer and she develops some good characters. But sadly this one sits on the shelf with the bookmark stuck on page 178...and that is where it will remain. I've put it down twice and read other books, but each time I picked this one back up for another try. I finally had to admit to myself that this is not a very good book. This would have made a decent essay or...more
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Alice McDermott (born June 27, 1953) is Johns Hopkins University's Writer-in-Residence. Born in Brooklyn, New York, McDermott attended St. Boniface School in Elmont, Long Island, NY [1967], Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead NY [1971], the State University of New York at Oswego, receiving her BA in 1975, and later received her MA from the University of New Hampshire in 1978.

She has taught at the UC...more
More about Alice McDermott...
Someone After This Child of My Heart That Night At Weddings and Wakes

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