I just finished reading Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. It is the next selection in my book discussion group.
The story starts at Billy's funeral and works its way backwards, telling the life of this man who charmed everyone he met, wrote notes and short letters to people addictively, who lost the love of his life, and was an alcoholic. The narrator of the story is an unnamed woman (or if she had a name, I certainly don't remember it), the adult daughter of Billy's cousin and close friend. The story is never really in her eyes, though. Often, she is relating the stories that she heard through her life. The story she is telling appears to be told to her husband. I thought the narrator set up was clever but often confusing.
I read it at an interesting time in my life. I tend to do that with books, read ones that touch my life at just the right moment. Like this one did. Alcoholism is a thread in many of my conversations lately. This story shows you the pain the family of the alcoholic endures. I had to concentrate at times because it was easy to slip in the names of the people in my life in place of the characters. There was one passage that stuck out at me. The wife of Billy had Hummel figures in a location where they were knocked over all the time when Billy was being carried upstairs. His friend Dennis complained that the figurines be moved, but the wife never did it. It was if she couldn't bear that little change, that concession to her husband's disease. And it struck me because I could see the exact same parallel with others who are living with alcoholics.
But mostly, the book didn't impress me. The plot twist was given away in the first chapter. It was hard to care about any of the characters. It was especially hard to find Billy charming. There is much in the book that is food for thought, especially if you dealing with alcoholism in your life. But not much if you want an engaging book. One of the women in my group who devours books said it was taking her forever to read this one. Luckily, it is under 300 pages.