by Vickie Weaver
Abandoned as an infant because of her incessant crying, and left hanging from a tree in a makeshift sling, Billie Girl is rescued by a passing couple, then turned over to a homeless boy who sells her for $5 to the two women who raise her-women who are actually brothers. Billie Girl's life, a gender-bending puzzle filled with dark humor and lessons on killing out of love, is a series of pivotal encounters with strangers who struggle along with what they are given: her two "mothers," a bigamist husband, a long-lost daughter named after a car, a platonic second husband who loved Billie's adoptive father. Twin themes of sexuality and euthanasia run throughout. In a journey from hard-dirt Georgia farm to end-of-life nursing home, Billie Girl comes to understand the mercy of killing.
Billie Girl was an interesting ride. I have to start by saying that I don't think this book is for everyone, by any means. But I also have to say, if you should really be able to tell from the synopsis above whether it's the right book for you, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Me, I read that little bit of oddness up there and thought, yes, please. And I loved it.
The story Vicki Weaver has crafted is in some ways reminiscent of Flannery O'Conner and William Faulkner. Now, I'm not saying that she's at their level -- yet -- but there is a similar feel of the rich, dark Southern Gothic about it, and she has the ability to get to the core of things in a way that's shocking and bizarre and horribly and perfectly human. The characters that populate Billie Girl's life are oddities that will stay with you. As far-fetched and strange as they can be, they are always relatable and real at their core. They all have things they are trying to hide or overcome or pretend away, and they Weaver makes you connect to them through these things.
There are some really deep, complicated issues at the heart of Billie Girl (like gender, sexuality, and euthanasia), and I have to commend Weaver for her handling of them. This isn't a didactic piece aimed at converting people to a particular way of seeing things. It's more an exploration of these deep issues, and of love and humanity, and it's done with love and humanity. It's by turns funny, tragic, heartwarming and painful. It's unflinching, and Weaver is really good at knowing when not to hold back. Even as you're wishing things could be different and happy, you know they can't and won't be, and I respect Vicki Weaver and authors like her who don't go for the saccharine and the easy way out. I'm eager to see what she does next.
[Note: I received a review copy of Billie Girl from Leapfrog Press at my request.]