Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Deborah Levy's "Billy and Girl"

By Christy Wegener

OCTOBER 11, 1999: 

Billy and Girl by Deborah Levy (Dalkey Archive), paper, $13.95

A sourly humorous tale, Levy's fifth novel is a balancing act between the sane and the insane. A postmodern escape into the lives of two abandoned teen siblings, the story centers on their door-to-door search for their runaway mom and their bizarre optimism for the future. Profusely poetic, Levy captures the tragedy of rejection through a colorful whirlwind of finely crafted dialogue and imagery.

Fifteen-year-old Billy and his 17-year-old sister Girl live together in London. Supported by checks sent from a distant grandfather, the two lead a mostly nostalgic existence. Girl combs the city in search of mom, approaching women of all ages at grocery stores, shopping centers and apartment buildings. She reports back to Billy who remains at home fantasizing about his future as an author, psychiatrist, movie star or doctor. Together, they provide one another with ridicule, memories from their dysfunctional past and support. A cast of characters, most of whom are recruited from the nearby Freezer World, revolve in and out of the teenager's lives, temporarily posing as surrogate parents.

Levy captures the day-to-day struggle and emotional anguish the two characters endure through a darkly humorous lens. Billy and Girl share an uninhibited dialogue that carries a fatalistic and naive tone. Brother and sister are continually falling into their own depths of self-denial, always counting on the other to hold up a brutally honest mirror.

Billy and Girl presents a close-up look at the shock and instability that follow a family break-up, and the creative way in which two people try to pick up the pieces. The dreary, big city feel of life in London is masterfully looped in through the dialogue and descriptive portrayals of the architectural landscape. The reader is taken through a wave of tragedies, mixed with a comic edge only to reach an end of blurred possibilities.

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