The Book: Alice McDermott, CHARMING BILLY. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1997 (first edition). Fine condition.
First read: 1999
Owned since: 2008 (this copy)
A couple of weekends ago, I handed off a copy of a book I'd ordered from England to Chris because it was a third printing, not the true first I'd been hoping for. I decided I'd rather have the American first than a UK third, as I have first printings of all of this author's other books.
"I don't mind having a third printing," he said. "I'm not obsessive about it like some people."
I protested -- I am not obsessive about it, and don't consider myself a collector. Really.
But yesterday, as I was dropping off yet another large donation of books to the Gardiner Public Library, I saw that they had this book -- a true first in perfect condition -- on their sale shelf. For two dollars. So I bought it.
I may have a problem. I'm just allowing the possibility. I am not yet willing to change.
But really -- a first edition of Charming Billy, when I don't even know what happened to my original copy! For two dollars!
It won the National Book Award for 1997, and I'm posting this from Boston's South Station before I catch my train, so I'm keeping this short. CHARMING BILLY is the story of Billy Lynch, romantic and alcoholic, told by the daughter of his lifelong friend after Lynch's death from cirrhosis. The central tragedy of Lynch's life, it seems, was the loss of his one true love, an Irish girl who went home to care for her parents and never came back. As the narrator investigates, however, she finds a very different story -- and wonders about the reasons for all the stories families tell each other about the things they can't explain.
I'm pretty sure I gave my original copy of this book to my mother, who probably then passed it on to one of my sisters or one of her friends. The year I read it, I pressed it on everyone, and my mother did too. I need to read it again ... just as soon as I get back from New York.