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Charming Billy

3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  8,257 Ratings  ·  701 Reviews
In a small bar somewhere in the Bronx, a funeral party has gathered to honor Billy Lynch. Through the night, his friends and family will weave together the tale of a husband, lover, dreamer, and storyteller, but also that of a hopeless drunk whose immense charm was but a veil over a lifetime of secrets and all-consuming sorrow.  As they comfort his widow, the gentle Maeve, ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 24th 2009 by Picador (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Will Byrnes
Nov 24, 2016 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 arbit
Sep 17, 2007 Christiane 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
Jun 24, 2007 Audrey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 31, 2008 Rebecca 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
Aug 28, 2007 Deirdre rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
thoughts i didn't know i shared with every other child of an irish american growing up in the five boroughs
Jan 26, 2009 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 22, 2010 Clare rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 08, 2008 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Adam Rabiner
Aug 15, 2012 Adam Rabiner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Judging from the reviews on, 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
Mar 24, 2008 Carla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 24, 2015 Jimmie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Claire McAlpine
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
Sarah Draheim
Dec 02, 2011 Sarah Draheim rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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,
May 12, 2009 Danielle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Janet Gardner
Feb 01, 2013 Janet Gardner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. it possible ...more
Jul 03, 2009 Sheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 20, 2008 Laurel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Saleh MoonWalker
Charming Billy is an enchanting book, a man loved by everyone driving himself to alcoholism. He was an aspiring Poet and loved being with his many friends. He made his living working in a Shoe Store! But the Alcohol had ruined his life and the lives of the people around him. His brother and best friend Dennis, often took care of Billy during those late nights, listening to his phone calls at 3 am. A kind man who would pick up the tiniest piece of paper to write his friends and family a note. I k ...more
Chris Gager
Apr 04, 2012 Chris Gager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 13, 2011 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Laura Rittenhouse
Nov 23, 2011 Laura Rittenhouse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 08, 2011 Labmom rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 26, 2016 Cathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book for a quarter at a thrift shop and discovered that it's pure gold. You don't have to be Catholic or Irish to find grace and stunning beauty in the recounting of Billy's flawed life. Deeply loved - beloved really - by his entire family and community, his loss, so artfully drawn in Chapter One, threads itself forward and backward through the entire book. Pay attention to the voice as you read because it may change when your attention slips for a second. Literary excellence from s ...more
Aug 04, 2011 Andrea rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Even though it's my ethnic heritage, I find narratives about Irish Catholic alcoholics very tedious. This one failed for me on all the major measures of an interesting and skillful novel. Kind of astonished that it won the National Book Award.
Ayelet Waldman
Still my favorite book.
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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 about Alice McDermott...

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“Billy didn't need someone to pour him his drinks, he needed someone to tell him that living isn't poetry. It isn't prayer. To tell him and convince him. And none of us could do it because every one of us thought that as long as Billy believed it was, as long as he kept himself believing it, then maybe it could still be true.” 1 likes
“It made it easier that they both believed in the simplest kind of afterlife - that my father could say to her, even in those last days, joking but without irony, 'You're going to get tired of hearing from me. I'll be asking you for this that and the other thing twenty-four hours a day. JESUS, you'll be saying, here comes another prayer from Dennis.' And my mother would reply, her voice hoarse with pain, 'Jesus might advise you to take in a movie once in a while. Give your poor wife a rest. She's in heaven, after all.'
It was a joke, but they believed it, and they believed, too, I think, that their love, their loyalty to one another, was no longer a matter of chance or happenstance, but a condition of their existence no more voluntary or escapable than the pace of their blood, the influx of perception...There was, in their anticipation of what was to come, a queer self-satisfaction. It was clear now that they would love each other until the last moment of her life - hadn't that been the goal from the beginning? They would love each other even beyond the days they had lived together; was there any greater triumph?”
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