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Charming Billy

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  9,850 ratings  ·  873 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
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Average rating 3.43  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,850 ratings  ·  873 reviews


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Will Byrnes
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyc
In the arc of an unremarkable life, a life whose triumphs are small and personal, whose trials are ordinary enough, as tempered in their pain as in their resolution of pain, the claim of exclusivity in love requires both a certain kind of courage and a good dose of delusion...Those of us who claim exclusivity in love do so with a liar's courage: there are a hundred opportunities, thousands over the years, for a sense of falsehood to seep in, for all that we imagine as inevitable to become arb
...more
Christiane
Sep 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Audrey
Jun 24, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Jeanette
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a reread. Years ago I read this one when it was new. It didn't connect as Alice McDermott for some reason. After I read Someone and loved it so much, I should have recalled this much earlier novel of hers.

Honestly, this time around I really did laugh at a few points. Especially upon the noting that the Protestants must know Our Lord a lot better since they call him by His first name all the time. But I also remembered the ending about 1/2 way through, so that took some wind out of the s
...more
Rebecca
Oct 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Clare
Jan 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Deirdre
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
thoughts i didn't know i shared with every other child of an irish american growing up in the five boroughs
Julie
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a beautiful novel with some top-notch prose. Not one word in this novel was pointless. This book was superbly written and a delight to read. It's a short read too. It's longer than Gatsby, but not by much.

The story starts at the end, after the funeral, and moves back in time revealing Billy's life and those that he left behind.

This novel had the best description I've ever read of why someone drinks and why someone stays with someone that drinks. While it was very specific to the charac
...more
Carla
Mar 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Robin
Jan 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Adam Rabiner
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Danielle
May 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jimmie
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Charming Billy is a National Book Award Winner. In this novel, McDermott develops the entirety of the book on remembrances after the funeral of Billy. Billy Lynch is hopelessly alcoholic, hopelessly Irish Catholic, and hopelessly romantic (Yeats being a favorite which he has been able to recite since childhood). And he is loved by all. Though much around him is, indeed, less than encouraging, Billy never loses hope personally; however, his impact on so many others is deep and wide, generous and ...more
Janet Gardner
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Claire
Dec 16, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Close friends and family come together to mourn and remember Billy, a man of Irish descent who fell for an Irish lass one summer, who promised himself to her and sent her the money so she could return to him after she went back to Ireland. It was a short romance, but one that everyone present at his wake had an opinion on, no one really knowing the full truth of what really transpired.

The novel unfolds and weaves like threads in a tapestry, as characters share their understanding of Billy, their
...more
Sarah Draheim
Dec 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sandra
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The plot is all in the first chapter. You'd better be aware of that. The magic of this book is the beautiful writing and the depth in the relationships between characters so real and so human you will feel like you know them already from somewhere.
Gary Guinn
Mar 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I once read somewhere that, when Alice McDermott’s novel Charming Billy was published in 1998, some MFA programs used the first chapter as a model for their students in fiction workshops. It’s a long chapter as chapters now tend to go, at 27 pages, but, set in a small bar in the Bronx after Billy’s funeral, it’s lovely.

Marked by the loss of an early love, Billy Lynch, broken by alcoholism, died as a man loved by everyone. “If you knew Billy at all,” says Mickey Quinn to the rest of the funeral p
...more
Sheryl
Jul 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Ange H
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm kind of surprised I like this book as much as I did, as it was slow moving and not terribly exciting. But the writing was beautiful and it drew me in.

Imagine you're friends with someone. You've met some of their relatives and heard family stories. Then you go to the wake for their old, drunken Uncle Billy. Later at the repast lunch (at an Irish pub, of course) you get the scoop on Billy's life and all these old family secrets and scandals.

You'd get kind of drawn in, in spite of yourself. An
...more
Andrea
Aug 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book is horrible. I'm an avid book reader and I finish each and every one, even the ones that I'm not too fond of. Charming Billy broke that for me, I made it about 120 pages in and couldn't finish it anymore. The author had such a great plot that she could've done so much with, but ruined it with too many names and rough transitions that often had me rereading passages because I had gotten lost so quickly. I did not enjoy this book in the slightest.
David
Jan 10, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Nothing charming about it.
P
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Those of us who claim exclusivity in love do so with a liar’s courage: there are a hundred opportunities, thousands over the years, for a sense of falsehood to seep in, for all that we imagine as inevitable to become arbitrary, for our history together to reveal itself as only a matter of chance and happenstance, nothing irrepeatable, or irreplaceable, the circumstantial mingling of just one of the so many million with just one more.

Charming Billy is written with all the tenderness merited by it
...more
Bobbi Woods
Sep 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Jacqueline Masumian
To read an Alice McDermott novel is to be immersed in a literary treat. Her finely-drawn characters, her exquisite imagery, and her profound empathy with the Irish-American community provide for a wonderful read. It's no wonder the book won the National Book Award.

Set in the boroughs of New York City and on Long Island from the late 40s through the early 90s, Charming Billy tracks a neighborhood of Irish-Americans, their loves and disappointments, their weddings and funerals. The book begins wit
...more
Labmom
Aug 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: award-winners
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
Int'l librarian
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
Mary D
May 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club
I feel like I should give myself 5 stars for the effort in finishing this. The book is all backstory that is as slow as molasses, with a climax that is a fizzle and then ends with excrutiating slow detail of real estate. The detail of the real estate makes me think this was the authors childhood home which would be of interest to only her own family.
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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

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