Charming Billy A Novel

Picador Modern Classics

Alice McDermott

Picador Modern Classics



Trade Paperback

256 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

A National Book Award Winner

In a small bar somewhere in the Bronx, a funeral party has gathered to honor Billy Lynch. Through the night, his friends and family will weave together the tale of a husband, lover, dreamer, and storyteller, but also that of a hopeless drunk whose immense charm was but a veil over a lifetime of secrets and all-consuming sorrow. As they comfort his widow, the gentle Maeve, they remember as well his first love, Eva, who died of pneumonia, and whose ghost haunted his marriage and drove him to the bottle. Who is truly responsible for Billy's life and death, and what does it mean to mythologize a friend's suffering? Beautifully written and teeming with fine portraits of Irish-American life in New York, Charming Billy is a masterful novel about how a community can pin its dreams to one man, and how good intentions can be as destructive as the truth they were meant to hide.


Praise for Charming Billy

"Magical . . . Ms. McDermott's people, unlike so many characters in contemporary American fiction, are defined largely by their relationships to other family members, relationships that are delineated with unusual understanding of how emotional debts and gifts are handed down, generation to generation, and how that legacy creates a sense of continuity and continuance, a hedge against the erasures of time. In Charming Billy, Ms. McDermott writes about such matters with wisdom and grace, refusing to sentimentalize her characters even as she forces us to recognize their decency and goodness. She has written a luminous and affecting novel."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"In the fiction of Alice McDermott, the heart is found in the quiet touch . . . Charming Billy is a remarkable and beautifully told novel, with overlays of prose and insight that are simply luminescent."—The Boston Sunday Globe

"Taut and beautifully written . . . Each distinct atom of reality splits under McDermott's artisan hammer and releases a world of wild, lost particles: charm, for example, and others the physicists have not yet invented, such as grief, comedy, even happiness."—Los Angeles Times

"Eloquent . . . heartbreaking . . . McDermott is brilliant."—The New York Times Book Review

"Alice McDermott demonstrates anew that she is a writer in a league all her own."—People

"There's no one like Alice McDermott for catching the ebullient particulars of the Irish-American sensibility, and in this superbly drawn, bittersweet tale of a captivating alcoholic, Charming Billy, her touch is light as a leather, her perceptions purely accurate."—Elle

"An exquisitely rendered portrait . . . tales overlap tales in a singsong pattern of Irish-American brogue and family history."—Entertainment Weekly

"Intensely moving . . . sly humor and boundless compassion."—New York Daily News

"Exquisitely presented . . . each scene hazy with the yellow light of history, nostalgic as faded Polaroids."—San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle

"An Irish-American Anne Tyler . . . Alice McDermott writes lovely novels about life among the Irish Americans . . . Like all its predecessors, it is wise, multilayered, and considerably more complex than it may at first seem." —The Washington Post

"An astoundingly beautiful novel about the persistence of love, the perseverance of grief, and all-but-unbearable loneliness, as well as faith, loyalty, and redemption."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"This is fiction as good as it gets."—USA Today

"Haunting . . . mesmerizing . . . McDermott is an enormously skilled and assured writer who transforms the ordinary into something resonant and magical."—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"A writer of such exquisitely detailed observations that every anecdote in Charming Billy is like a photograph in a family album . . . The book is a quiet pleasure to read."—The Baltimore Sun

"A masterpiece of moral complexity, a tough-minded balancing fuels the novel's incantatory resonance and emotional tension."—The News & Observer (Raleigh)

"Beautifully constructed . . . Lyrically condensed yet intricate prose."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Lyrically tender."—New York magazine

"Mesmerizing, perfectly pitched . . . Charming Billy deserves at least two readings: one to consider why Billy's faith is so appealing despite the wreckage of his life, and the one for the pure pleasure of McDermott's words."—The Miami Herald

"[A] rueful shrug of a novel whose strong, shrewd opening pages should be taught in college writing classes."—Time

"A softly resonant and nostalgic tale told so masterfully, so movingly, it seems to distill a human essence on virtually every page."—Kirkus Reviews

"Poignant and ironic . . . McDermott's compassionate candor about the demands of faith and the realities of living brings an emotional resonance to her seamlessly told, exquisitely nuanced tale."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)



Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Charming Billy by Alice McDermott. Copyright © 1997 by Alice McDermott. To be published in December, 1997 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

SOMEWHERE IN THE BRONX, only twenty minutes or so from the...

Read the full excerpt


  • Alice McDermott

  • Alice McDermott is the author of six novels and a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, Ms. McDermott is currently the Richard A. Macksey Professor for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her articles, reviews and stories have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Redbook and elsewhere.

  • Alice McDermott Epic Photography/Jamie Schoenberger




Download PDF



Go to website


Sign Up


Reading Group Guide