Charming Billy (1998), Alice Mcdermott's most celebrated novel, focuses on the tragic life of Billy Lynch, an Irish American who comes of age in New York City during the later part of the twentieth century. It opens at his funeral where several of his friends and relatives gather to recall Billy's life within his tight-knit Irish Catholic, Queens community. As they come to offer support to his longsuffering widow Maeve, they celebrate his poetic, gentle soul and mourn his descent into the alcoholism that eventually killed him.
As Mcdermott weaves together the sometimes contradictory stories from those who have come to remember Billy, she presents a heartbreaking portrait of unrequited love and a masterful depiction of an Irish community that revels in its traditions and remains loyal to its members. In her chronicle of Billy's attempts to realize his dreams and the tragic result of his failures, she creates a poignant tale of love and loss and the tension between romantic illusions and reality.