5.0 out of 5 stars Another book for the misguided youth
Its not easy to grow up without a role model. This book is about the need for a boy, Billy, trying to find himself while growing up in a poor neighborhood in New York. Billy's character was a symbol similar to the character Holden Caulfield in the book Catcher and the Rye but the difference between the two characters was that Billy was a little bit less in control of...
Published on Aug. 23 2003 by L
3.0 out of 5 stars Unlike Billy, the novel fails to mature
Young Billy is green and fresh at the book's opening, and a seasoned young man by its end. Early in the book, you eagerly learn with Billy, through his neophyte eyes. But the book and Billy get bogged down in upstate New York, in a slow and sulky movement through time. I yearned for either a faster pace, or to learn more about Billy's inner workings, and felt that...
Published on Dec 23 2002 by Quickhappy
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4.0 out of 5 stars Letters and numbers,
BILLY BATHGATE is E.L. Doctrow's poignant look at Depression era gangsterism through the eyes of the young boy after whom the book is named. Much to Doctrow's credit, there is no sentimentalizing or romanticizing of criminals here. Almost legendary gangster, Dutch Schultz, who befriends Billy, is depicted clearly as a vicious, sadistic thug teetering on the edge of insanity.
Although it is the Dutchman who takes in the boy, Billy is drawn to Dutch's moll sexually, and to the gang's bookkeeper, Otto Berman, emotionally. Otto is the real key to the book. Billy, like Johnson's Boswell, is drawn to the accountant and his philosophy. Broken down, Otto explains to the boy that things like love, loyalty, knowledge, and spirit are meaningless--none of them can be proven. They are all bound by words. To Otto, words are just words. Numbers, however, is the only true language. One and one will always be two. Numbers never lie. (Spoken like a true accountant.) This has an enormous impact on a young boy whose mother is one step away from the nuthouse, and whose father took off years earlier.
I gave this book four stars because I had just finished re-reading RAGTIME, and this came up a little short. On the other hand, maybe RAGTIME was too high a standard to hold it up to. In any event, this is not your typical gangster novel, as I hope this review has made apparent. It is a complex and profound book and should satisfy the most literary appetite.
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points.
5.0 out of 5 stars Another book for the misguided youth,
Its not easy to grow up without a role model. This book is about the need for a boy, Billy, trying to find himself while growing up in a poor neighborhood in New York. Billy's character was a symbol similar to the character Holden Caulfield in the book Catcher and the Rye but the difference between the two characters was that Billy was a little bit less in control of his destiny and was led on more in this story.
The character Billy becomes wrapped up in a gang led by an alcohol smuggler, Dutch Schultz, by doing menial tasks. But also he witnesses something brutal with the execution of one of Dutch's betrayers. Doctorow uses the naivety of Billy to accentuate the emotional scenes in the book and the execution in the beginning is merely one example.
Billy is also expressed as an outcast from society trying to find himself a feel like he belongs somewhere. And that is how he gets wrapped up in the gang and never thinks twice about it. He most importantly wants Dutch to like him for its own sake. Other characters in the book are in the gang for ulterior motives from the accountant to the grunts and drivers, that's to be expected. But for Billy, he just wants to be liked.
I thought that the scenes were pretty enjoyable. It's similar to the book of "The Catcher and the Rye" and the famous film "The Graduate" starring Dustin Hoffman who I believe is in the movie version of this book. Reading this book will make you think like a teenager and might even bring back some memories you might have of being unsure of yourself or wanting to be accepted within a group. It should take a week to a couple of weeks depending on the time in your reading sessions.
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable work of literature that is also a page-turner!,
Rarely does an award-winning work of literature read as easily as a Michael Crichton paperback. If you are in the mood for a quick read, you would normally turn to the pop fiction selections on your bookshelf and find something mindless and plot driven. If you are looking for a higher level of quality, such as a Pen/Faulker Award winner, you perhaps consciously prepare yourself for the added effort that reading a meaningful, elaborate, character-driven novel entails. You will almost certainly be rewarded for the effort, but it is an effort nonetheless. But in Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow blends the depth, substance, and beauty of a quality work of literature with the pace, suspense, and rhythm of a mafia thriller. The result is an imminently readable novel that is also an important contribution to 20th century fiction.
The plot itself bears much resemblance to countless other mafia stories, filled with shady characters, ruthless hit men, brutal murders, bribing of government officials, and steamy love affairs. The uniqueness lies in the fact that the narrator is a 15-year-old boy, Billy, eager to earn the trust of Dutch Schultz, the mafia kingpin, and his gang. He quickly progresses from simple errand boy, buying cigarettes and coffee, to a position of modest responsibility in this intriguing world of crime. Through Billy's somewhat naïve, innocent eyes, we observe Dutch as he manages his empire, carries out hits against his enemies and disloyal employees, and struggles to evade the attempts of law enforcement to bring him down. The story takes us from New York City to Onondoga, a small town where Dutch's trial eventually takes place. And in the process, we witness the growth of a boy into a young man as he enters a world of big money, intense loyalty, and vindictive violence. Throughout, Doctorow's beautiful prose, gift for understatement, and masterful sense of timing create a remarkable novel that will linger in the reader's mind long after the last page has been read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Coming of Age in the 1930's,
An excellent tale of an aspiring young street tough's initiation into the dangers and excitment of the gangster life, circa the 1930's, this book captures its era and the personalities it portrays with an astonishing verve and veracity. The tone and "voice" feel right, speeding along brilliantly, while the tale, of a young fellow's awakening from gawking naivete to a certain street-smart cynicism, rings remarkably true. If there is a reason for reading fiction today, BILLY BATHGATE offers the perfect example: it is a means for carrying us into places and times now long gone which still may resonate in the contemporary soul. While the hero is a trifle too cloying for my tastes and seems rather more inured to the moral chaos he sees around him than his apparent sensibility suggests he should be, this is, finally, a small fault to find with such a deflty turned tale. Progressing from a 15-year old loner on street corners to mascot of the Dutch Schultz gang, as they hurtle down the spiral of their final decline, the self-named Billy Bathgate insinuates himself into the precarious confidences of this remakably unstable crew. Schultz, himself, the erratic gang leader, has already slipped into a dangerous condition of paranoia and isolation and his hangers-on live from moment to moment in fearful unease, unable to check the excesses of their leader or to separate themselves from him. Billy finds their life oddly mesmerizing as he gets sucked into witnessing outbursts of murder and coldly planned gangland executions, until his role brings him into the orbit of a flighty, if beautiful, society doll. Then a burgeoning adolescent crush seems to awaken him to what he has done and, as in a dream, he begins to seek a way out. The ending comes swiftly and will surprise those who have not yet seen the movie (which captures much, but not all, of the written tale). And yet the wrap-up is a little bit of a let-down (rather too pat, actually) and I longed to know more of who and what this Billy turned out to be. Yet, on balance, this was a fine novel and evidence, indeed, for the solid reputation Doctorow has earned.
5.0 out of 5 stars A boy's urban adventure,
Set in 1935, "Billy Bathgate" tells the story of how its title character, a 15-year-old street kid from the Bronx, apprentices himself to one of the most formidable gangsters in New York. Thomas E. Dewey, the special public prosecutor of New York who later was to run for president against Roosevelt and Truman, is making a name for himself by going after mob figures, and Dutch Schultz is one of his prime targets. Dutch's gang is involved in the operation of breweries, nightclubs, and labor unions, and they're not shy about disposing of their enemies through symbolically gruesome means, as we see what happens to two scab window washers. To evade taxes they launder their money through a small town upstate called Onondaga.
Billy becomes attracted to the flamboyant gang and slowly ingratiates his way inside by doing small jobs for them. Besides the charismatic but tragic Dutch, other members include the friendly Otto Berman, who loves playing with numbers and becomes Billy's fatherly mentor, the brutish muscle Lulu, the silently perceptive Irving, and Mickey the driver. Billy narrates in the first person with a unique voice, using run-on sentences that display his enthusiasm to be playing with the big boys.
The novel begins "in medias res" with a scene of one of Dutch's disloyal henchmen being fitted for a pair of cement shoes. The man's girlfriend, a voluptuous high-society blonde with a complicated private life, becomes Dutch's moll, and Dutch gives Billy the assignment to keep her company when the gang hides out in Onondaga for the summer. Eventually Billy realizes that her life might be in danger as a possible witness to her ex-boyfriend's murder, and one of the best parts of the novel is his clever plan to get her out of harm's way. In the novel's tense climax, Dutch plots to assassinate Dewey, an event which, if carried out, would certainly change the course of history as we know it.
As in "Ragtime," Doctorow is eminently able to evoke a romantic but realistic New York City of a time long past that perhaps was quieter but not necessarily more innocent sexually or morally. Doctorow obviously enjoys using the city and figures from history as a canvas on which to create his fiction, and his joy is infectious to the reader. I certainly wish I could have spent a teenage summer having Billy's experiences. Invoking the excitement of a boyhood adventure in an entirely original milieu, written with maturity and panache, "Billy Bathgate" is a novel Mark Twain would have saluted.
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Easily Forgotten,
I recently finished Billy Bathgate, so the book is still fresh in my mind. I have to say, as a first-time reader of Doctorow, that I was not disappointed, and that I was definitely surprised. The surprise stemmed, probably, from the fact that I rarely read 'modern' authors. I find their work too cookie-cutter, lacking in imagery and effective language,extremely forgettable, and one dimensional. Well, Doctorow is none of these things. Personally, I don't think I will ever forget Billy Bathgate. The title character himself is too engaging to be forgotten, too understandable, human, and too deserving of just the right amounts of sympathy and exasperation. His narrative invokes memories of Holden Caulfield, Nick Carraway, and strangely enough, Dr. Watson. Doctorow peppers his text with delightful run-ons, sentence fragments, and old-fashioned American profanity. I say delightful because all three of these classic no-no's are incorporated perfectly into the words coming out of Billy's mouth and from his memory. Perfect grammar would be undesirable in this case, because Billy thinks in fragments and acts in run-ons. I think we would miss out on half of his personality and being if he didn't come across as a boy made out of the broken pieces of one big, dangling participle. Don't let reviews dissing the grammar deter you from reading this book, I suppose I'm trying to say. The imagery is beautiful, the descriptions (especially of people, but also of places, smells, buildings, scenes,) are sheer perfection. They hit the nail on the head. Sit back and watch the mental movie your mind will unfold for you. This is one of those books that will give you End-Of-Book-Withdrawal.
I'm very much looking forward to reading Doctorow's other works.
4.0 out of 5 stars First Doctorow Experience,
By A Customer
In Billy Bathgate, Doctorow writes a coming of age book about a 15-year-old boy from the Bronx. The story is set in the late 20's and early 30's. Billy, for all practical purposes, is an orphan who grows up on the tenement-lined streets. His life changes when he ingratiates himself with a local mobster named Dutch Schultz.
Billy, at first, runs simple errands; gathering coffee and donuts and delivering money. Dutch, however, likes the kid and starts to train him for future endvours. Billy likes the money but soon realizes he is in thicker than he wants to be. However, the Mafia is his family and there can be no escape. The book takes Billy through the dangerous and exciting rise and fall of Dutch's empire.
Doctorow writes a compelling novel in the sense that Doctorow has done his homework. There is a sense of authenticity when reading the historical and scenic descriptions. Billy's love scenes and the gritty action were described almost poetically. However, what turned me off was the writing itself. Too many run on sentences and often times I found that the scene changed, often radically, without any help to the reader. It was like a page or paragraph was missing. While the characters were colorful and interesting, I didn't have as much sympathy with Billy as I would have hoped. There is some sexual content, so young readers should be cautioned. Otherwise a pretty good story, especially if you like this historical era.
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality Fiction,
By A Customer
I read somewhere that in BILLY BATHGATE Doctorow was writing a myth about capitalism, which seems about right. Doctorow is one of the few historical novelists who has something significant to say about American history and doesn't just appropriate famous historical figures to give their books marketing value (yes, I'm talking about BLONDE, by Joyce Carol Oates.) This book is pretty great. If you haven't read it, you'll enjoy it. If you like a good read -- interesting characters, humour, vivid imagery, and a suspenseful plot -- you'll love it. If you're interested in literary form and ideological engagement (like the capitalism comment above) you'll also enjoy it. This seems to be Doctorow's strength -- combining good old-fashioned narrative with serious literary critique in a way that should make Tom Wolfe jealous. The opening, where the gangster gets his feet cemented, sets a dazzling tone for the rest of the novel, and this is one book that keeps getting better as it goes on. Buy this one and enjoy.
3.0 out of 5 stars Unlike Billy, the novel fails to mature,
Young Billy is green and fresh at the book's opening, and a seasoned young man by its end. Early in the book, you eagerly learn with Billy, through his neophyte eyes. But the book and Billy get bogged down in upstate New York, in a slow and sulky movement through time. I yearned for either a faster pace, or to learn more about Billy's inner workings, and felt that Doctorow didn't quite give me enough of either, as the book wore on. I say farewell to Doctorow for now, having liked Ragtime the best of his I've read.
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent story,
I've only read two of Doctorow's books, this one and _The Book of Daniel_, and this novel is about as far from daniel as you can get (though both are excellent). It's an excellent story about a boy coming of age in the 20s and 30s as a sort of member of Dutch Shultz's gang. He learns lifes lessons from these men. Doctorow's prose is lyrical, a sort of irony when you put the beautiful language Doctorow uses with the violence and moral ambiguity of the characters. This is a great culmination of Doctorow's work.
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Billy Bathgate: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow (Hardcover - Oct. 1990)
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