Billy and Girl

Deborah Levy, Author Dalkey Archive Press $13.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-56478-202-1
First published in England in 1996, this darkly humorous, surrealistic rendering of a primal family drama is also an unsettling postmodern portrait of the hurt and rage of adolescence. Fifteen-year-old Billy England and his 17-year-old sister, Girl (real name, Louise), have been on their own for five years, since their father apparently set fire to himself and their mother disappeared. Before that, Billy had successfully made it ""his life's mission to steal Mom's love from Dad,"" provoking his father's beatings and the fateful conflagration. Now the siblings live in a schizophrenic world of pain versus mindless numbness. Billy knifes the seats of cinemas and envisions writing ""Billy England's Book of Pain,"" while fantasizing about ""being the bloke in the H agen-Dazs ads, with good-looking girls"" surrounding him. Girl (""there are two of me: one named, the other unnamed"") roams suburban London neighborhoods doing ""Mom checks,"" randomly knocking on doors in search of their mother; she also spends time wandering through the FreezerWorld supermarket, listening to ""beautiful announcements"" about the homey qualities of the merchandise. Through a series of bizarre events connected with FreezerWorld, which is the site of ""deep-frozen pain"" as well as soothing messages, Billy and Girl learn more about themselves, but the core revealed is itself confused and tragic. The narrative, always teetering on the edge of chaos, occasionally threatens to explode into full-blown violence, even during the desired yet bittersweet reunion with Mom. Though erupting anger dissolves into, or is deflected by, perverse hilarity, the feeling of menace never disappears. An ambitious work by the author of Beautiful Mutants, this complex and touching novel explores the themes of identity and a missing moral center with rare aplomb. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 192 pages - 978-0-7475-2835-7
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-7475-3168-5
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