Edmund White: Give It Up For Billy

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 2

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In Edmund White’s short story “Give It Up For Billy”, Harold vacations to Key West amidst a pervasive feeling of alienation and loneliness. Is this feeling because he is gay? Possibly. Could it be because he is turning 64? Probably. Is it because he’s just plain human? Yeah, that could be it, too.

oxford short stories

White develops Harold into a character that might not be exactly likable but he is definitely relatable  regardless of whether one is gay, straight, old, young, male, female. Harold feels like those closest to him are using him. In spite of his professorship at Princeton, he questions if he has been successful or if what he has accomplished matters.

Does White allow Harold to realize answers to his questions? Maybe. But any story coming close to realism as it grapples with existential issues isn’t going to be definite about the answers:

A small, peevish voice somewhere inside of him said, “See? He was just using you and everyone else.” But then Harold smiled, pleased at the simplifying form things had taken.

This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Three of Clubs for Week 2 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

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