It really is true that belonging to book club can expand your reading vista. Whether browsing or searching, I probably would never have chosen this debut novel by William Kowalski. There were even some of us who tried to hide the title as we were reading. Eddie's Bastard is a saga of a family, the Manns, and, as such, the reader is privy to all those ups and downs and secrets that are a part of family history.
A baby is left in a basket on the doorstep of an farmhouse in 1970. An older man discovers the little boy and by looking at the infant's eyes, knows immediately that the child is a member of his family. He names the boy William Amos Mann, or Billy for short. A a genealogist, it would have been helpful to have a pedigree chart for all the family members whose stories are drawn into the novel. Central to the story, also, is the grandfather, Thomas Mann, Jr.'s, diary from World War II and his being shot down by a Japanese pilot. But then there is the introduction of another Mann who fought in the Civil War. At times it becomes confusing and takes a bit of perseverance.
Billy is home-schooled by his grandfather and the two lead a virtually eremitical life, living on fried bologna sandwiches. (This actually created a craving and a trip to the grocery store to get the fixin's for the same.) Thomas was an alcoholic and Billy learned to cope with being very much on his own as he grew up.
Billy's world expands to include other towns people in the small town of Mannsville, not too far from Buffalo and Erie. There is the Annie Simpson whom he loves, but who has a horrific secret that she keeps, Elsie, the prostitute who shows Billy the ways of the world, and Dr. Connor, who knows everything about everyone in the town. It is through the characters that Billy's life is shaped.
Although I found the book a bit slow in the beginning, I began to appreciate the writing, situations, and the character development. It was hilarious when the ostrich adventure recurs, and sad when the Simpsons were center stage. Throughout it all, it is really the story of a young boy and then young man who is on a quest to discover who he really is and from where he comes. This search drives him to the very end of the novel and leads the reader to think that there will be something more to Billy's life story. And there is, the sequel, Somewhere South of Here. A good and satisfying read.