Billy Tabbs (& The Glorious Darrow)
by Michael P. Michaud
Imagine living your whole life as a homeless individual, starving all the time, just trying to get through the day, your only concern being the next meal. Imagine getting used to that because it’s all you ever knew, to being treated less than human, and then someone comes and tells you it doesn’t have to be that way, that you are worth just as much as everyone who passes you on the street and watches you suffer on a daily basis. Someone who actually wants you and tells you that you can belong to something.
The premise of this book is very interesting and thought provoking. Billy is a very believable character and you can definitely sympathize with him. He’s not a hero, he’s just a normal guy trying to get by. He has his beliefs and tries to stay true to them but sometimes it’s just not possible. I wonder if I would have done anything different, were I in his shoes.
– The book succeeds very well in making us think about subjects that bother us. Why should we give anything to people who don’t work? Why is it our problem? Yet I wonder often how easy it would be to end up in such a place myself. Billy Tabbs forces you to put yourself in their shoes.
– The author does a great job portraying the atmosphere of adulation. How easy it is for someone as charismatic as Darrow to prey on people’s desperation every step of the way. He truly is a daunting character. And Totter is basically his extension in the brainwashing procedure. That dude really irked me and reminded me of several politicians and other people in power.
– For the most part it is an extremely well written book and there are very few typos, even in an advanced copy.
– The present tense in Lambert/Meyers chapters left me very confused at first. I think it was unnecessary; the different font highlights what is necessary well enough, and as the story progresses we can tell quite well those actions happen after Billy’s story – but that is a small personal preferrence which in no way affected my rating.
– Some things were unclear to me. Examples:
– Ever since the first couple of chapters, I wondered how exactly society was supposed to know what the group intended which such acts of mischief. They were pretty much only practicing crimes, never speaking out what they wanted. It never seemed obvious to me how such deeds could ever lead to anything productive and I always thought it was a matter of time till the members were arrested or even killed. It never seemed clear who or why those actions were being performed, even after the sketching of ‘Darrow knows.’ and the symbol – it could be anything! Yet it seemed completely evident to everyone in the group. In the beginning of chapter 12, Billy finally addressed this, asking Jacob how people could tell what exactly the group was demanding. The answer was absolutely noncommittal. He basically told him it was obvious.
– Then on chapter 12 it is mentioned that Jenny has a baby. One minute Jacob ‘lifted the shapeless form (…) carried the stillborn tenderly (…) for a moonlight burial and the next Jenny is tending to little Samuel? What happened? Was there more than one baby? If not, who or what was buried? What did I miss? It took me several chapters to finally find the answer to that. Not sure if this was done on purpose, but while I appreciate little clues lain around that I can pick up later on (like the fact that Darrow was the father), this was just not one of those cases, I wanted that bit to be clear, even if all the rest was left just as mysterious.
– I couldn’t get how Billy suddently got great fighting skills in the last few chapters, after the prison thing. I only remember seeing his thieving skills praised.
– I wasn’t very happy with the plot twist in the ending chapter. While I can appreciate the allegoric effect and how it will make you go ‘oh, that’s why that happened, or that’s why that was decribed in that way‘ and will definitely want to make you reread the whole book bearing it in mind, it completely reshifted the focus of the book to the point I felt the issues I find so important were almost belittled. It meant that certain things I would have like seeing addressed weren’t, like associations which help the homeless people and their limitations.
I enjoyed the book structure. The two different fonts portraying different times and characters, the chapter division and titles – though I feel some chapters should have been further divided. And even though I think some characters could have been better developed, each definitely had their own voice.
In the beginning, I found the book mildly interesting, up to about a third or so. I have to admit I considered giving it 3 stars because it was good but something seemed to be amiss. The plot twist at the end explains why certain things were missing, but the fact is you have to wait till the end of the book to figure out why certain things were not (better) explored. So while a reread might be worthy of 5 stars, a first read warrants 4, in my opinion, because of that feeling that some important things were not explained.
The second part of the book was a lot more enjoyable than the first, partly because the above mentioned elusiveness was not so evident. Plot twist or not, the theme was a breath of fresh air in current literature, reminiscent of books like 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World and others and I for one am very happy to have had the opportunity to read this.
All in all, this book is worthy of a thorough discussion. Namely about how ideals can so easily be twisted, how people who initially have good intentions can turn into the very thing they hate the most in the blink of an eye, how scary it is to see the hypocrisy in place but not be able to do anything… and so much more related more particularly to the ending, which I will not mention so I don’t spoil the experience for you.
Billy Tabbs is actually two books in one – the first read and the reread provide completely different experiences, I am sure, both enjoyable in their own way (obviously I will be adding this to my to-reread list), so that alone makes it an unique book. I would be very interested in reading a sequel and think this is one author to look out for. I for one am now a fan.
Read this book. It will set the wheels turning in your brain, make you uncomfortable, excite you, sadden you, anger you and hopefully at the end of the day make you want to be more… human.
Read from October 31 to November 08, 2014
I would like to thank the author for providing a free copy of this book through GoodReads First Reads program in exchange for my honest review.