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5.0 out of 5 stars You will enjoy it
You will enjoy this book - McDermott's writing is very unique and very refreshing from the ordinary. For something different, read here.
Published on May 31 2004

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Not-So-Charming
McDermott is a skillful writer and weaves thoughtful plots with substance. However, Charming Billy seems to create a massive void between reader and character(s)...there was such distance between me and the story...I did not quite believe the caricature snapshots of how wonderfully charming Billy was...after all, he was drunk most of the time. AFter 30 years of drinking...
Published on Dec 20 2003 by Sue Lit-Fan


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5.0 out of 5 stars You will enjoy it, May 31 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Charming Billy (Hardcover)
You will enjoy this book - McDermott's writing is very unique and very refreshing from the ordinary. For something different, read here.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not-So-Charming, Dec 20 2003
This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
McDermott is a skillful writer and weaves thoughtful plots with substance. However, Charming Billy seems to create a massive void between reader and character(s)...there was such distance between me and the story...I did not quite believe the caricature snapshots of how wonderfully charming Billy was...after all, he was drunk most of the time. AFter 30 years of drinking and allowing alcohol to become the most hotly pursued thing in one's life, I think the charm has probably worn off a bit(at least in the real world). I enjoyed the Irish Catholic humor, the narration for the most part, and the ironies. But just when I got a bit comfortable and enjoyed getting to know a character, McDermott switched voices, characters, and created a frustrating read.
I gave it 3 stars for the authentic effort, and McDermott's play on words. For the most part, it just "didn't work."
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2.0 out of 5 stars lacking charm and construction, Dec 17 2003
This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
The first chapter of this book has the quiet charm and colorful charactors one would expect, but it quickly devolves into a confused meander through side stories, secondary charactors and long passages (pages and chapters) of people sitting and telling the story to someone else - at a wake, a bar, etc, creating a distance between the reader and a flattening of any plot tension. This is heightened by the undefined narrator/lens figure. Yes, she is the daughter of Billy's good friend, but beyond being there as a witness to the conversations and reminiscences, she plays no narrative role, has no stake in the story, no life outside the story, in short, she is flat. Why McDermott chose this way to construct the story is beyond me - the occaisional interjections of the narrator's first person voice every 30 pages are a disruption that contributes nothing to the story.
The main story, of a man who is told by his best friend his fiancee has died, when she (we learn in first chapter) married someone else, could have been interesting, but it is never developed as other charactors' loves and work tales take over. The whole thing feels like listening to someone else's family stories where you don't really know who is who, and after awhile, don't care.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderfully Written Novel, Nov. 30 2003
By 
B. Cirelli (Santa Rosa, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
Alice McDermott is a great writer and this novel about an Irish American alcoholic is a minor masterpiece. McDermott's style is to time slice anecdotes about Billy during thirty years of life. We meet the young charmer full of romantic yearnings about love. And we see the pathetic drunkard who full of Catholic dogma tries to quit drinking through love of Christ. While Billy is the title character, it is his cousin who is the star of the novel. I would urge anyone who has an interest in Irish Americana, Catholic fiction or just plain good writing to read the novel. You will enjoy it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book!, July 29 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
I am surprised at the negative reviews. This is a novel, but it is very philosophical. It's really about reality, what is "real"? What is romanticized or exaggerated? Especially in family histories passed down through the generations, what is the truth? Is there such a thing? Is it possible to decode it from all the tangled threads of people's recollections? Is there a way to make sense of people's memories, or of our own memories of "what really happened"? Just because you don't like the protagonists doesn't mean it isn't a good book. It makes you think. It makes you look at your own family stories and your own memories and see that each person's perception of the same events is quite different. Even someone who seems to be "hard headed", practical and "down to earth" is creating their own reality by taking that stance... using their imagination to try to strip away the imaginary. Read Wallace Stevens "The Plain Sense of Things" or Blake's "letter to John Trusler" and then reread this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a thoughtful, well-written tale, July 24 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
I knew in the middle of reading this story that I would not soon forget it. McDermott's book is full of questions that matter- what do we owe those we love? how do we create each other's histories and what effect do the stories told about us have? are truth and myth equally powerful in our daily lives? McDermott tells the story beautifully and lets readers come to their own conclusions and ponder their own histories.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Billy's not so charming, April 20 2003
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This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
Charming Billy is a book you may want to think twice about before picking up, not because it is a difficult read in the sense of language but because of the construction of the book. The author, Alice Dermott, might be charming at times with her colorful insights, vivid images and creative phrasing, but this book certainly was far from charming. McDermott is an accomplished writer, but in this book she tells the story completely backwards making it awkward at times and quite difficult to follow. I had to read a good fifty pages before I even had a clue as to what was going on in this book and who the character was who was being talked about. Not to mention that each chapter almost retells what the one before it did with maybe one more added detail to the story. So in essence, the reader might read the same sentences a dozen times. This book is not at all challenging with its very bland wording and frankly is quite boring with not a stagnant plot but a complete lack of one. The characters never get a chance to develop because the story never goes anywhere. I only finished reading the book because every once in a great while McDermott explodes in an intricate and almost poetic phrasing with the prize for finishing this book being that the end is the only part that can be considered good.
Obviously this book's main character is a man named Billy, who fell in love at a young age with a girl name Eva after coming back from war with his cousin, Dennis. Billy was fooled by his cousin into thinking she died of pneumonia and so Billy tries to live his life and go on without her. Dennis only tells Billy this lie to cover up for the fact that Eva moved on and got married to someone else. Dennis does not want his cousin to know that Eva used Billy's money, which was intended for other purposes, to start a business for her new husband. After years of struggling with the brutal lie that Eva died, Billy marries a woman named Maeve. Unfortunally, Billy could never see her the way he saw his first and true love Eva. Billy struggles with the demons of his past while trying to move on to a new life, which is why this book captures the struggles and pitfalls of depression and alcoholism portrayed through Billy's emotional character so well. This book is not the actual living of Billy, but rather others telling the stories that made up his life. I find it very interesting how McDermott does not make the book about mourning Billy's death but about celebrating his life. This book starts out very creatively in a pub in New York after Billy's funeral as guest reminisce about old times they had with Billy and about how Eva forever changed Billy's life when she broke his heart by dying.
I would recommend this book to any readers who thoroughly enjoy a challenge in figuring out story lines. I also think this book would be a must for any psychology majors because of how deep this book goes into the realm of life's struggles, depression, and the battle over the addiction of alcoholism. I give this book a two star rating and not a three only because I have read books that are average and this book just falls short of being an average book. There is insight into this book; the main problem is there simply is no plot or action of any kind and that the book flip-flops from present to past constantly losing the reader.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Quiet book, April 2 2003
By 
S. Griffin (Portland, OR United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
A quiet, reflective story about an alcoholic man's death. His friends and family reminisce, and whispered voices are heard from the past. I liked the way this book was written. 'Quiet' is the best way to put it. Read it!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not what it could have been, Jan. 30 2003
By 
Craig Wood (Menlo Park, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
Sometimes the books that are showered with awards and drip with critical praise are the ones that disappoint you the most. It's not that "Charming Billy" is a poorly written novel. Far from it. Alice McDermott is clearly a very strong writer whose prose and dialogue are finely crafted. It's just that the storyline in this book seems to have so much promise, yet never really goes anywhere.
Our protagonist, Billy Lynch, loses his fiancée to pneumonia and spends the rest of his life drinking himself to death to assuage his pain. The book begins at his wake and then hip-hops around, filling in the blanks of his oh-so-melancholy life. Sometimes it's difficult to keep track of all the characters in Billy's sprawling, Irish-American family. But a few notes that I jotted down as I read the book definitely helped sort out all of the confusion. Most of the characters are developed very nicely. But some are glossed over, like the narrator (Billy's cousin's daughter) and a fellow named Danny Lynch (and how exactly is he related to Billy?).
If you enjoyed reading Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes," you might want to give "Charming Billy" a read. It's well written, poignant, and surely has a message. But if you're expecting a little (just a little) action, a plot twist here and there, or even a bona fide tear-jerker, this book may not be for you. Despite its strong points, "Charming Billy," just like the life of the book's hero, is not what it could have been.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written, Jan. 8 2003
By 
K. D. Stutzman "decemberthirty" (Philadelphia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charming Billy (Paperback)
"Charming Billy" is not an extremely ambitious book, and it's certainly not a book that hits you over the head with sheer genius. It is, instead, simply an old-fashioned good book. It's story is simple, it's prose is gorgeous, it's characters are believable... It's just good. And the last chapter is especially lovely.
Alice McDermott's beautiful and luminous prose is the most noticeable aspect of the book. Her writing is stylistically straightforward, and is characterized by excellent dialogue, careful description, and a heartbreaking subtlety of emotion. Despite it's depressing subject matter, the book has a quiet and peaceful feeling. All in all, I found it to be a lovely, refreshing read.
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Charming Billy
Charming Billy by Alice McDermott (Paperback - Jan. 12 1999)
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