BILLY BRAZIL by Emilio DeGrazia


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 An English professor's encounter with a schizophrenic student forces him to reconsider what it means to be human--in an absorbing first novel by the author of the story collection Enemy Country (1984). Matthew Holmay began his professorial career with a pretty wife, high hopes, and the promise of good things to come; but as the years passed, the borders of his life in a midwestern college town narrowed to include only Matthew himself (now divorced), his daughter, Evelyn, of whom he has custody, an old Victorian house that he may never finish renovating, and an academic career that founders as Matthew fails to get started on the requisite book. His remaining talents--a passion for teaching literature and his devotion to his nine-year-old daughter--win scant praise from the outside world, and Matthew feels torn between wanting to win that praise and sinking into the more satisfying life of the spirit and mind. By the time Billy Brand, an earnest young student fresh off the farm, captures Matthew's attention with his puzzling combination of utter vacuousness and occasional brilliant insights into Matthew's most beloved books, the professor, whether he knows it or not, is ripe for seduction. Matthew allows himself to be entangled by Billy's soaring extremes of spirit and mind, many of which challenge the professor's own unconscious ways of living, until Billy's attraction to young Evelyn causes Matthew to draw back in fear. Whether Billy Brand, who calls himself ``Billy Brazil'' in his writing, is truly insane--and what insanity means in any case--is only one of the mysteries in this painstakingly layered tale. More to the point is Matthew's struggle against the painful insights uncovered in the course of a reexamined life, and whether he will ever manage to accept them. Powerful and haunting--a work of great integrity.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-89823-130-2
Page count: 210pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1991