We’ve finished another wonderfully written novel. Alice McDermott’s story of Charming Billy depicts a man beset with an uncontrollable addiction to alcohol. The novel is a poignant evocation of an Irish American Catholic family as they struggle to understand the tragic affliction of one of their members, a man who lived a life completely in the grip of alcoholism. The novel asks this basic question: Was Billy Lynch's death by alcohol the result of being told that Eva, the love of his life, had died shortly after she returned to Ireland. Billy finds out 30 years later that she had not died as he was led to believe by his cousin but that she had betrayed him by marrying another man in Ireland? Or was his death caused by a genetic weakness for alcohol? These two questions are tough to answer.
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As we see in the story of Billy, alcoholism can be a deeply troubling, family destroying affliction. Perhaps the most telling line in the novel is expressed by the narrator when she observes at Billy’s funeral that he had “ripped apart, plowed through, as alcoholics tend to do, the great deep, tightly woven fabric of affection that was some part of the emotional life, the life of love, of everyone in the room.”
In end we are left to decide for ourselves if Billy’s alcoholism was “a disease” as thought by many in the family or was it a personal choice as observed by his cousin Dennis when he says Billy always had a reason to drink because, “an alcoholic can always find a reason but never needs one”.Share |