Cover image for Eddie's bastard : a novel
Eddie's bastard : a novel
Kowalski, William, 1970-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 367 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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"There was something irrevocably different about my life, about who I was and how I came to be, that made me nothing like other kids my age; and what was more, it was too late to do anything about it. It had always been too late, in a sense. . . ."

In this rich, deeply resonant literary debut, twenty-eight-year-old William Kowalski explores the power of family, the meaning of history, and the bonds of individuals united and shaped by love--a wondrous novel in the grand storytelling tradition of John Irving and Wally Lamb.

"Eddie's Bastard" is one William Amos Mann IV, fondly known as Billy, the illegitimate blue-eyed son of "Ready Eddie" Mann--a legendary golden athlete and brave pilot killed in Vietnam--and an unknown mother. The last in a line of proud, fiercely individualistic Irish-American men, Billy is discovered in a basket on the doorstep of the once grand farmhouse that is his ancestral family home, now a dusty, haunted mansion. The sole inhabitant is Billy's grandfather, Thomas, a bitter and lonely recluse who will raise Billy on love, fried baloney sandwiches, and the fascinating lore of the Mann family itself. While his birth may have been inauspicious, Billy's life is destined for greatness. He is a Mann, Grandpa reminds him daily, the progeny of an indomitable family scarred by success and tragedy.

Through the whisky-tinged tales of his grandfather, Billy learns how the clan's fortune was discovered by his great-great-grandfather and namesake, Willie, a hero of the Civil War, and how it was lost by Thomas himself, a veteran of World War II, in a scheme known as the Great Ostrich Fiasco of 1946. As he matures into adolescence, Billy will eventually capture these stories on paper, a tradition begun by his great-great-grandfather, who confessed his secrets in a journal he kept throughout his life.

Through the tales of his ancestors and his own experiences, Billy learns of bravery and cowardice, of life and death, of the heart's capacity for love and for unremitting hatred, eventually grasping the meaning and true beauty of family and history and their power to shape destiny. Here, too, are the unforgettable people who will indelibly mark him, including the generous and loving Dr. Connor, his grandfather's best friend and the man who holds the key to the secrets of Billy's past and the promise of his future; the charmingly offbeat Shumachers, a "loud, Teutonic, and vibrantly healthy" tribe of Pennsylvania Dutch farmers who care for young Billy when his grandfather is hospitalized after a freak accident; Elsie Orfenbacher, a ripe, energetic woman who will later introduce him to the pleasures of manhood; and the love of Billy's life, Annie Simpson, an ethereal girl with a dark mystery that will first bring them together and then threaten to drive them apart.

A novel of discovery, of a young man's emergence into the world and the endless possibilities for greatness it offers, Eddie's Bastard is a luminous reading experience, a novel steeped in imagery and lyricism that marks the debut of a talented new writer.

"My life has been made of stories from beginning to end, and just when it seems one is ending, a new one begins. The world itself is woven of stories, each man and woman and child of us threading our own brightly colored tale into the bigger story that was already being told as we were born, and that will continue to be woven by others long after our threads have run out..."
-- from Eddie's Bastard

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Billy Mann wasn't always known as Billy; his original moniker was "Eddie's Bastard," or so read the sign affixed to the basket in which he was delivered as an infant to his grandpa's doorstep. Billy's grandpa is overjoyed to find that his son Eddie, who was recently killed in Vietnam, fathered an illegitimate son before he died, for now the Mann family line will live on after his own death. The perpetuation of the Mann lineage is sacred to Billy's grandpa; it is his belief that a person inherits not only the blood of his forebears but their spirits as well. Billy is raised by his grandpa in a secluded, dilapidated house. When sober, Billy's grandpa is a wonderful caregiver, but mostly, he is a reclusive alcoholic. Having lost the family fortune through a foolish investment made in his youth, Grandpa believes that he ruined the Mann family name and cannot forgive himself. Billy and his grandpa are the sole living Manns, yet the presence of Manns past loom large in their lives. The ghost of Billy's great-great grandfather inhabits their house, and the ghost of Eddie, Billy's father, appears to Billy in times of need. Another prominent presence in Billy's life is his neighbor, Annie, with whom he falls in love and plots to save from her terrifying, abusive father. A thoughtful meditation on the power of family bonds, this impressive debut novel showcases the abundant storytelling abilities of its 28-year-old author, highlighting him as a talent to watch. Steffanie Brown

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his ambitious, bittersweet first novel, Kowalski explores the world of a boy growing up in a small upstate New York town called Mannsville who must find his place in the shadows of nearly mythic ancestors. In infancy, narrator Billy Mann was left on his grandfather's doorstep, with a note identifying him only as "Eddie's bastard." Billy's bitter, proud and often drunk grandfather tells him that Eddie was a larger-than-life hero whose plane was shot down over Vietnam. Growing up, Billy is regaled with tales of other legendary Manns, whose "natural tendency toward greatness" stretches back more than a century. Yet the grandfather also paints himself as a fool who lost the family fortune with an ill-conceived idea for an ostrich farm. Billy endures a lonely, isolated childhood and adolescence, countered primarily by his rich imagination, his courage and his friendship with neighbor Annie Simpson, whose abusive, poor white trash family is the antithesis of the lineage-proud Manns. Kowalski layers the past effectively, blending the grandfather's oral history with Billy's own coming-of-age narrative. Although the vaunted Mann fortune derives from simple luckÄthe discovery of blood-tainted, Civil War-era buried treasure on their propertyÄthe mythic tales inspire Billy to some noble deeds of his own, and he assumes the mantle of family storyteller so the legends will endure. Though at times it veers into dramatic overload, the novel is ultimately an absorbing, redemptive exploration of a young man's search for himself, wresting an identity out of generations of secrets. Agent, Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Assoc. 75,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour; rights sold in Germany, England, Spain and the Netherlands; Harper audio. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Billy Mann is an illegitimate orphan known around Mannville as "Eddie's Bastard." This first novel tells the story of two relationships: between Billy and the reclusive grandfather who reared him and Billy and his young friend Annie, a victim of paternal abuse. These relationships are troubled in the extreme, but love can abound in even the most imperfect settings. The theme of family gives form to the novel. Stories of his father, Eddie (dead before his birth), inspire Billy like ghostly encouragement, and excerpts from his great-grandfather's diary appear like a refrain, offering guidance. Kowalski writes in a style so natural that the reader is only aware of the story it transports. Surreal moments that recall John Irving include a man's severed tongue inside a snowball and a description of the family's financial ruin by the "Fiasco of Ostriches." Highly recommended for all collections.ÄCarol J. Bissett, Dittlinger Memorial Lib., New Braunfels, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.