"Charming Billy" Slowly Gets Charming

I’ve been trying to get into Alice McDermott’s “Charming Billy,” (a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the 1998 National Book Award) and have been unenthusiastic, until the 3rd chapter. Especially when I read the following striking character description:

“My mother might have been different, my father was fond of saying, if her life had been different….she was a Geiger counter for insincerity, phoniness, half-truths. She could dismantle a pose with a glance and deflate the most romantic notion with a single word. She had no patience for poetry, Broadway musicals, presidential politics, or the pomp of her religion–although my father, his father’s son, loved these things in direct proportion to her disdain–and she sought truth so single-mindedly that under her steady gaze exaggeration, self-delusion, bravado simply dried up and blew away, as did hope, nonsense, and any underground giddiness.

Her philosophy in life seemed to be to get to the bottom of things, the plain, unadorned, mostly concrete and colorless bottom of things, and from there to seek to swat away any passing fancy that might cloud the hard-won clarity of her vision. Because she was also intelligent and witty, and because her cynicism was bolstered by a keen logic, she gained in her later years a reputation as a sage, but one whose advice friends and family would seek only at the tail end of some experience when they were ready to be either reconciled to their disappointment or disabused of any vestige of hope for some unexpected change.”


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