Belly Review
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The central character of Belly is one William O'Leary, known about town simply as “Belly.” He’s been in jail for the past four years for running an illegal gambling service out of his bar. Now that he’s out, he expects to reclaim his former position with the powers that run the town of Saratoga Springs. Instead, in his first week of freedom, he ends up an outcast in his town and a stranger to his family.

His family has potential for bringing out the story that Belly is trying to tell. One daughter—who has a house full of boys with another on the way, a husband who works more than he’s home, and a non-affair with her high school sweetheart—agrees to let her father live with them. Another is in a bad marriage and about to move to Alabama to study the art of binding books. One is a television news reporter in New York, but her lesbian friend is living in his old house. The fourth has been dead since before Belly went to jail and is still by far his favorite. Each of them has a separate dysfunction and multiple issues to deal with. Yet none of them really come into full form.

Belly is not a nice guy. In fact, he’s the kind of guy who gives a bad name to all men everywhere. It would be wrong to describe him as the hero of this book, and the term anti-hero doesn’t really fit either. He’s a drunk who used to hit his wife and kids. He cheated on his wife for sport. His home town has been overtaken by Wal-Mart and chains of coffee shops that he can’t conform to. He got into the book making racket to please a mistress, then he gave her all of his hidden cash before he went to jail. He steals a truck from his daughter—and some of her money. He ruins his grandson’s confirmation party. He can’t even manage to have a decent enough epiphany to give this book a solid climax.

The ending, where all the tension and emotion should crash together to change the central character, is weak and stereotypical. There’s no real life-changing moment, no point that the reader can look to and say “he’ll be different now.” This book was full of potential and just enough came out at key times to make you want to keep reading. Too bad that none of it was realized enough to make Belly a satisfying read.

Belly is Lisa Selin Davis’ first attempt at a novel. According to the liner notes, she’s a professor of creative writing, which makes sense because she writes like someone who teaches other people how to write. Each word has been selected for a very precise reason to send a certain message, and each word drowns out the ones around it. The funny thing is I read an online interview with Davis where she claimed to be caught up reading Hemingway while writing this book. Her end result is about as far from Hemingway’s tight, crisp prose as a writer could get.

I can’t bring myself to recommend this book.

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