Belly by Lisa Selin Davis

Belly by Lisa Selin Davis

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover, 273 pages, 2005

Rating: 9/10

Reason for Reading: The title sounded simple yet intriguing.

Synopsis: Belly O’Leary is out of jail after serving four years for running some illegal gambling out of his bar, and he’s feeling pretty good. He took the fall without ratting out anyone else, and therefore he’ll be rewarded any day now by the reemergence of his mistress, Loretta, who’ll come bearing all the cash he made. But Saratoga Springs isn’t the same town he left behind – his bar is gone, Wal-Mart has sprung up, his daughters have turned out nothing like he wanted them to, and there’s no sign of anyone from his old life. What is the world coming to…and where does Belly fit in now?

Why you should read this book: Belly is a character with many layers, a man fighting to understand the world but unable to even begin figuring himself out. Davis writes with subtlety, letting the reader work, just as Belly is, to try to figure out what he really wants. This light hand allows emotions to emerge for all of the characters – even as you pity whichever daughter he happens to be mistreating at that moment, you’re also feeling sorry for Belly for not knowing how to stop, because he really wouldn’t have a clue what to do instead. There’s enough good trying to creep out of Belly that you can indulge yourself in becoming absorbed in the life of such a vile man. Belly manages to be unpredictable enough to keep the storyline interesting without creating one of those disappointingly awkward, ‘the story is dragging so I better throw in something ridiculously random to spice things up’ vibes. The writing in Belly is smooth and engrossing, covering hatred, sympathy, and even humour with equal grace. An excellent story about old-time thinking colliding with modern day living. Highly recommended if you’re searching for a book with a character complex enough to make you think about 21st century lifestyles and morals.

Why you should avoid this book: Belly is big on all kinds of unpleasant things – drinking too much, lying, hitting women, abandoning women, and a general intolerance for most human beings. As you might imagine, it makes him hard to like at times, so Belly
might be something you’d pick up when you were looking to read about life’s seedy underbelly (no pun intended) rather than the uplifting tale of a likeable character.

Opening paragraph:

Saratoga Springs was stoic as the Statue of Liberty with Grace Kelly’s face and the body of Bettie Page. That’s the way Belly O’Leary thought of his town, like she was a woman in a Greek robe, to be revered. He stared out the big tinted front window of the Greyhound bus as it hobbled north on Route 9, down the long line of motels that sat hungry all winter and grew fat with tourists in the summer. They were fat now, August. Cars streamed out the little roundabouts and bled onto the highway.

Fabulous quotes:

It was Maybelline who held him too tight and too long. ‘Time to take the convict home,’ he said, swinging one leg over the bed.
‘Can’t you stay here?’
She lay back on the lacy pillows in her red bra and granny underwear. A long black treasure trail ran from her navel, all those hairs pointing down their like arrows.
He was so bored he didn’t even want to say no.
‘I gotta go,’ he said. He stood and slipped on his jeans and buttoned them, stepped into his cowboy boots.
She tossed a teddy bear at his head and he thought, What is the bare minimum I have to do to get with this girl again, maybe just once more?

Stevie Ray put down his joystick, while Jimi played more intently, fixing his eyes on the screen.
‘When is he ever here at their bedtime?’
Belly adjusted himself on the couch.
‘Sound familiar to you, Belly? Only being home on Sunday nights? Does that make him a bad father?’
‘Sure,’ said Belly. ‘I take it all back. He’s a very happy man.’
‘Whoever said happiness was the point?’
He looked at his grandsons. Jimi pretended not to hear them. Stevie Ray stared. ‘That’s not the point?’ Belly asked.
Stevie Ray opened his mouth, but Nora stopped him.
‘Would you please mind your own business, Stevie?’ Nora asked him. ‘Look at your little brother, minding his own damned business.’
The boy made a teepee with his hands and whispered a prayer to himself.
‘I really wish you wouldn’t do that,’ Nora said. ‘Do you have to pray every time I say the tiniest thing? You think Jesus cares if I slip once or twice?’

Also recommended: Money by Martin Amis; Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre; What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoe Heller.

Also by this author: Belly is Davis’s first novel.

Author’s website:

Fun tidbit: Click here for Book Brothel’s interview with Lisa Selin Davis.

Would I read more by this author? Absolutely, I’m looking forward to Davis finishing her second book.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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