To listen to this audiobook is to enter the perilous, thrilling world of Billy Bathgate, the brazen boy who is accepted into the inner circle of the notorious Dutch Schultz gang. Like an urban Tom Sawyer, Billy takes us along on his fateful adventures as he becomes good-luck charm, apprentice, and finally protégé to one of the great murdering gangsters of the Depression-era underworld in New York City. The luminous transformation of fact into fiction that is E. L. Doctorow's trademark comes to triumphant fruition in Billy Bathgate, a peerless coming-of-age tale and one of Doctorow's boldest and most beloved best sellers.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material: Fred Ahlert Music Corporation and Henderson Music Company: Excerpts from the lyrics to "Bye Bye Blackbird", lyrics by Mort Dixon, music by Ray Henderson. Copyright 1926. Copyright renewed 1953. All rights for the extended term administered by Fred Ahlert Music Corporation for Olde Clover Leaf Music and Henderson Music Company, c/o William
Krasilovsky, Feinman and Krasilovsky. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Bourne Co./New York Music Publishers: Excerpt from the lyrics to "Me and My Shadow", words by Billy Rose, music by Al Jolson and Dave Dreyer. Copyright 1927 Borune Co. Copyright renewed, International Copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The Songwriters Guild of America and CPP Belwin, Inc.: Excerpt from the lyrics to "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else", by Gus Kahn and Isham Jones. Copyright 1924. U.S. rights renewed 1980 Gilbert Keyes Music and Bantam Music.
Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.: Excerpt from the lyrics to "Limehouse Blues", by Philip Braham and Douglas Furber. Copyright 1922 Warner Bros. Inc. (Renewed). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
©1989 E. L. Doctorow (P)2014 Random House Audio
“A wonderful addition to the ranks of American boy heroes . . . Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer with more poetry, Holden Caulfield with more zest and spirit . . . The kind of book you find yourself finishing at three in the morning after promising at midnight that you’ll stop at the next page.”—New York Times Book Review
“A modern American masterpiece . . . Doctorow takes up the legacies of Fitzgerald and Cheever and adds to them a savage and erotic splendor of his own.”—John le Carré
“Indelible in its fierce energy, its relentless irony, its rawness.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“Riveting . . . mesmerizing . . . unforgettable.”—Time
“Enthralling.”—Los Angeles Times
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"Great Gangster story. Beautiful prose. The best"
Yes - definitely.. I read several reviews of the print version on Amazon before getting this. It appears the print novel lacks punctuation in places, making it difficult to read. The narrator M. Deakins helps us out by interpreting the prose and making it easier to hear the story than to read it. Sometimes a novelist uses missing punctuation or excessive run on sentences to set the mood for the reader. Well, I don't want to be driven crazy by reading a book and trying to guess where a pause should be inserted.
Sometimes - like with Billy Bathgate, the Narrator helps us enjoy the book more than if we were faced with reading it and getting frustrated by having to decipher the prose.
Otto Berman is my favorite character in this story. He appears to take a true interest in educating Billy in the knowledge of being a gang member, tutoring him, but not taking advantage of him. Kind of a Fagin father figure.
Oh yes. Definitely - see my response to the audio version being better than the print version above. Plus Mark Deakins is able to change Billy's voice at times, properly representing not only his mood, but also his maturity. For example, just the way Deakins has Billy say the word "Yes". It sounds silly, but in just the way Deakins has Billy say that one word he is able to convey innocence and immaturity.
Doctrow does a great job with the erotic scenes between Billy and Lola/Drew.
Also the final scene with Dutch and the mob with Billy is particularly graphic and well written - so much so - I could see it happen in my mind.
This is the first time I've gone back and re-listened to the book after finishing it the first time. I'm glad I did. Doctrow is a master of prose - and is able to convey hidden meanings in the verbiage that does not detract from the story telling - but like a great painting - you have to sometimes know where to look or how to look at a section to understand (or think you understand).
I leave you with one haunting question....Was Hines Billy's father? And did Dutch know it - and if so, when did he know it?
I'm sorry for one thing - that Doctrow has a limited number of novels, and I've almost gone through them all. :(
Doctorow died in July 2015, so I checked my records to see what books of his I had read and was surprised to find the only book I had read was “Ragtime”. It is a funny feeling; I could have sworn I had read “Billy Bathgate”. Now I have another reading project, which is to read all of Doctorow’s books.
“Billy Bathgate” is Doctorow’s eighth novel (1989). The story won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction in 1990 and the National Book Critics Award in 1989.
The book takes place in the 1930s New York. Billy is a 15 year old high school dropout living by his wits in the Bronx. Billy is athletic and adept at juggling. He worked his way into the Dutch Schultz gang and is eventually taken on as a protégé by Dutch and his bookkeeper Berman. The story takes place during the decline of Dutch Schultz and his gang after the repeal of prohibition. As a horse person I enjoyed the part when they went to the races and horse action at Saratoga Springs.
The book is well written. It is in the first person narrative of Billy. Doctorow sent me to the dictionary a few times. The book is a historical novel. I had forgotten what a gift of language Doctorow had. Mark Beakins narrated the book.
"A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction"
This is the vivid first-person story of a fictitious 15-year-old boy who works his way into the confidence of a real-life gangster: Dutch Shultz, a New York mobster of the 1920s and 30s. Billy is determined to become a successful gangster, and inserts himself methodically into the mob’s inner circle. He becomes noticed as a street juggler, and is soon witnessing a classic cement-overshoes homicide.
There is intrigue, sex and violence, all in the enthusiastic aw-shucks voice of a kid with a nasal Bronx twang who also has amazing powers of observation and articulate description—and somehow it works brilliantly.
To beat a tax evasion rap, Schultz takes his whole entourage for weeks to Onondaga, NY, where the trial will be held, and charms the populace who will provide the jury of his peers. His popularity offensive as described by Billy could be a blueprint for recent US political campaigns:
“And now the scope of Mr. Schultz’ strategy became apparent to me. I had wondered how anyone could be fooled, because what he was doing was so obvious. But he wasn’t trying to fool anybody. He didn’t have to. It didn’t matter that these people knew he was a big-time New York gangster. Nobody here had any love for New York anyway. And what he did down there was his business, if up here he showed his good faith. It didn’t even matter that they knew why he was doing what he was doing, as long as he did it on a scale equal to his reputation. Of course, he was obvious. But that’s what you had to be when the fix was in with the masses. Everything had to be done large, like skywriting, so that it could be seen for miles around.”
You don’t expect this story to spin up and away to a whole new level, as it does in the last hour or so. You don’t see it coming. But suddenly it does, and what has been a nonstop compelling narrative accelerates like a rocket achieving orbit, from a dramatic gangland shootout through Billy’s youthful but crafty management of a life designed to escape detection by his enemies and one day lay claim to millions of dollars hidden by his late mentor.
You’ll want to drop everything, write down the generous list of clues, and find it yourself. But then you remember: Dutch Schultz was real, and the 1935 shootout at the Palace Chophouse in Newark really happened, and his legendary treasure was never found. Billy Bathgate, on the other hand, is a fictional character. E.L. Doctorow skillfully makes you believe otherwise.
The narration by Mark Deakins brings Billy Bathgate to life as a wide-eyed kid with wisdom beyond his years, not to mention the coarse voice of Dutch and his henchmen. A perfect choice.
"classic American novel"
well written but wordy. very good storytelling and worth the listen. set in New York of the 1930s
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