Monday, July 14, 2014

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself. This book is not for you. This is not a beach read, unless the beach is made of volcanic ash. This book is not inviting. It is daunting, from its fearsome cover to its black-edged pages to its almost entirely phonetic spelling. The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself asks much of its readers. Your patience, your attention, your willingness to exist in ambiguity. Perhaps most of all, the book demands your acceptance that in the end not all will be made clear. The story won’t tell. Many will see these as reasons to avoid reading David Almond’s The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean. I see them as reasons to seek it out.
“He lissens. Thers crekes & craks & owls & a far off groanin & a jentl thuddin. Thers a littl suden clik & clak nereby & he catches his breth & stiffens & trembls a bit. He looks with wyd eyes at the lockd dore” (10). This is the narrative voice of Billy Dean, a young boy hidden away in secret shame. A young boy born on the day the bombs came to Blinkbonny, a special child. An “AYNJEL CHILDE” who can see things others cannot and communicate with those beyond the pale of the living. As Billy grows into a young man, we grow with him in understanding what happened on the day of his birth, why he has been hidden away, and the unveiling of the world outside his house. But though we gradually learn more, Almond never entirely lifts the veil, for us as readers or for Billy as a character.

Billy’s phonetic spelling may seem like a needless artifice to some, but I found it added to the sense that this was a story of our world but also not. The first few pages are frustrating, but deciphering Billy’s words became easier as I progressed. As I read Almond’s mesmerizingly strange tale, I thought of Rust Cohle’s words on True Detective: “It's just one story: the oldest, light versus dark.” Billy’s story is full of the darkness—the malevolence of his father and the bombers, perhaps even a darkness within Billy himself. But he searches for the light, as seen in his mother, the artistry of his friend Elizabeth, and often in the natural world he was denied for years: “I am enchanted by the byuty of the world. I wark throu the lejons of the lovely living things. I wander in the relms of lite” (193). Is Billy in the end redeemed? Is the world he finds himself in? The story won’t tell with any certainty, but Almond certainly makes us ask the questions.

So while this book may not be for you, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself is a book for us. It’s just one story, but it’s the old, old story. And that story always needs retelling.

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Alex Baugh said...

I read this when it first came out and was absolutely blown away by it. But I was afraid it was the kind of book readers might not want to bother with because it does take more work on the part of the reader. Yet, I couldn't put it down.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Billy Dean. I hope you have inspired some kids to seek it out and read it.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Sounds like Hoban's Ridley Walker

K.M.Lockwood said...

I may be slightly in love with your reviewing style. I have rarely read such an honest and straightforward piece which so gets to the heart of an excellent book.
I am a long-term admirer of David Almond - but not his publicist :)

Sarah Stevenson said...

It does sound like Riddley Walker. I'm intrigued!

wpolking said...

Alex: I too hope I can nudge a few students to give Billy Dean a try. Thanks for reading.

Brian and Sarah: Now I have to read Riddley Walker.

K.M.: Blushes. Dies. Thanks much.