Billy Lynch, alcoholic, romantic, kind and loving man, has died. His friends and family come together to comfort his widow, and to celebrate his life. And Billy’s life seems to have two stories to it. The sad story of his alcoholism, which his friends and family tried again and again to guide him away from, with no success. And the sad story of his first love, an Irish girl whom he intended to marry, but who goes back to Ireland and dies. At least, that’s what Billy is told. The truth is, she took the money he sent her for her passage to America, bought a gas station in Ireland, married someone else, and built a life for herself there.
This cruel twist comes pretty early on in the book, and the rest of the story is the meandering tale of his romance with the Irish girl, his grief at her ‘death’, his marriage to Maeve and their life together. Her suffering through his alcoholism, her reliance on his cousin, Dennis, to help her when he comes home drunk at 3am, night after night after night.
The story is told by Dennis’ daughter, sometimes as told to her by her father, sometimes as though she is telling the story to her husband. I found the point-of-view narration a bit confusing, and somewhat irritating. Sometimes the narration would change within a single paragraph from first to third person. The language is often lovely, and the author captures the way that people talk, the honestly of their voices and grief, their delight in gossip, but desire to protect Maeve from that same gossip. Mostly though, I just wanted to shake Billy and tell him to stop drinking so much, get over his youthful romance, and see if living for today, with the life he has made for himself, might actually be more rewarding than pining away for someone long gone, and trying to drink yourself into an early grave. I wish I had enjoyed this book more than I did. Has anyone else read this book? Agree or disagree with me on my summation? I’d love to hear from someone who loved it, and find out what you got out of it that I missed.
Charming Billy is a National Book Award winner.