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Belly    by Lisa Selin Davis order for
by Lisa Selin Davis
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton

This debut effort by Lisa Selin Davis is the wonderfully crafted tale of a man who refuses to change with the times, or to reform his life after spending years behind bars. Belly O'Leary, who has just gotten out of prison for running an illegal gambling operation from his legitimate business, the Man-o-War Bar, finds his life is a mess. He's been given a second chance, but he can only think about the past and about people he will never see again - one of his daughters died in an accident when she was sixteen, and his lover ran off with Belly's gambling money when he was sent to prison. His wife left him years ago, his lesbian daughter will not speak to him, and his remaining two daughters aren't on good terms with him either.

Throughout the book, Belly alludes to the accident that took the life of his third (and favorite) daughter, a girl who will remain forever sixteen in his mind. The more we get to know Belly, the more we learn about why he feels such guilt about the death, and how the accident impacted his life. Davis slowly unravels the mystery, while Belly cannot stop thinking about the daughter he felt had the most promise (his other children are a major disappointment to him). Truly dysfunctional, the O'Leary's are the Archie Bunker family gone wrong. Belly is a racist, a bigot, a drunk, and now he's got a prison record. His son-in-law is a Jewish Democrat, the ultimate slap in the face to a man who feels disdain for both groups. When he finds that his daughter Ann's friend is staying in the house for a while, Belly isn't sure what to think.

What is truly sad about Belly is that he cannot see past his nose. He centers on himself and has no regard for anyone else. His children suffer for it, he has chased his wife away (she finally realized she couldn't stop drinking as long as she lived with him) and now he's longing for a past that is never going to return. All he can think about is the good old days that he sees through rose-colored glasses. While this may sound like a downer, it isn't. With dark humor, Davis carves out a stereotypical character, bringing out the nastiest traits of humankind and pitting him against today's world. The reader will laugh often at Belly and his sense of self and of the world around him. The question is, will Belly ever turn his life around? Highly recommended.

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