Sunday, 19 June 2011

Belly by Lisa Selin Davis (4/5)

The back says: Belly O’Leary? Tough guy, lives hard. Holds his liquor well. Won’t back down from a fight. Three grown daughters, one ex-wife, a mistress. Returning home to Saratoga Springs after four years away.

But what the hell happened to his town? The bar he used to own is gone. Wal-Mart and Starbucks stand in the place of familiar landmarks. His daughters treat him like and afterthought. No one laughs at his jokes. No one remembers his bar.

Belly is the story of a man shocked by change into a last shot at life. When the old friends, the old haunts, and the old ways look like they could cost him what is left of his life, Belly is forced to learn, small step by small step, to live in a new way. Holding on to an unshakable core of pride even as he confronts the secrets that have shaped his life until now, Belly makes an unlikely but irresistible hero.

I say: Belly is the definition of an asshole. Seriously. He’s selfish, arrogant, a drunk, a thief, mean, foolishly proud, continuously takes advantage of the people who care about him, and is incapable of seeing his mistakes, choosing instead to blame everyone around him.

Like I said, an asshole.

On my first read I got as far as page 19 and put it down because I seriously couldn't stand him. Reluctantly, might I add, because I was enjoying Davis’s writing, but I’ve known so many Bellys in my life, it all hit a little too close to home. About a month later on I decided to get over myself and just read it,

and I’m glad I did.

I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with the summary above that “Belly makes an unlikely but irresistible hero,” because to me, he’s anything but a hero. He did sort of grow on me at the end of the book, but all throughout I kept shaking my head at how utterly selfish and naïve he was. Sure, I get that he was a broken man, and for very good reasons, I just still couldn’t understand him at all. His thought process was so incredibly damaged it was dangerous, and yet he was so convinced that he was right and everyone else was wrong.

Hats off to Davis for writing this character with such incredible realism,

because if it wasn’t for her writing I wouldn’t have continued reading; the way she laid up this story, letting us inside Belly’s head, experiencing his emotions and reasoning. And yet, seeing things through his eyes, and me being a functioning individual, I couldn’t help but continuously lose it completely when the truth slowly crept up on me. Davis brilliantly created these believably flawed characters, especially his daughters Nora and Eliza, who, despite their own issues, were still trying to help Belly in spite of everything he’d put them through.

It just really took me by surprise how very ordinary this story is, in a way, and yet Davis managed to turn in into something outstanding.


"What happened to the pink sweater, to his daughter’s pink sweater? It was horrible to be old. Untenable. All these gaps of memory and information, retracing your steps, treading the same territory, just trying to recall. Only the things he wanted excised still remained: the painful irony of aging, the brain’s big joke. […] How he hated that stupid pink sweater. How he hated the way she insisted on dressing like a bag lady after watching those John Hughes movies with the martyred working-class girls, pretending to be poor. You’re not poor, he would yell at her. I was poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. And how she would ignore him in those moments, those times when he couldn’t find his way back to an even temper, she would just walk right out the door and let him steam. He needed his third daughter, but she was not a normal child: she didn’t need him." - p. 209

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