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“I read George Hodgman’s extraordinary memoir in one seamless glorious sitting. You will want to take your time and savor your experience with this amazing family, this moving story and its timeless lessons. Bettyville is full of love, and grace, and tenderness. Unforgettable and engaging in its humor and in its heart.” - Terrance G. Finley, President and Chief Executive Officer
A witty, tender memoir of a son's journey home to care for his irascible mother--a tale of secrets, silences, and enduring love
When George Hodgman leaves Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri, he finds himself--an unlikely caretaker and near-lethal cook--in a head-on collision with his aging mother, Betty, a woman of wit and will. Will George lure her into assisted living? When hell freezes over. He can't bring himself to force her from the home both treasure--the place where his father's voice lingers, the scene of shared jokes, skirmishes, and, behind the dusty antiques, a rarely acknowledged conflict: Betty, who speaks her mind but cannot quite reveal her heart, has never really accepted the fact that her son is gay.
As these two unforgettable characters try to bring their different worlds together, Hodgman reveals the challenges of Betty's life and his own struggle for self-respect, moving readers from their small town--crumbling but still colorful--to the star-studded corridors of Vanity Fair. Evocative of "The End of Your Life Book Club "and "The Tender Bar," Hodgman's debut is both an indelible portrait of a family and an exquisitely told tale of a prodigal son's return.
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- ISBN-13: 9780525427209
- ISBN-10: 0525427201
- Publisher: Viking
- Publish Date: March 2015
- Page Count: 288
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-02-09
- Reviewer: Staff
Hodgman's memoir chronicles his return home to care for his mother in the small Missouri town where he grew up. His relocation provides the veteran book editor and writer an opportunity for re-evaluating his life while assuming care of Betty, his ailing, widowed, and willful 90-year-old mother. Hodgman's narrative alternates between describing the joys and stresses of his daily caretaking tasks, giving close analysis of his life growing up gay in a smalltown. Hodgman (Sixty Years on the Turf) also chronicles his long struggle to understand and become comfortable in his own skin, ruminating over the decades his family muffled discussion of his sexuality. Hodgman attended college, then moved to New York at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, which greatly affected his view of the world. As Betty's health declines, Hodgman is buoyed by the friendships and familiarities provided by smalltown life. Hodgman includes a cast of characters from his hometown, as well as people he encountered professionally and romantically in New York. The author's continuous low-key humor infuses the memoir with refreshing levity, without diminishing the emotional toll of being the sole health-care provider to an elderly parent. This is an emotionally honest portrayal of a son's secrets and his unending devotion to his mother. (Mar.)
A mother's last days
George Hodgman had defined himself by his work as an editor in New York City. Newly out of a job, he returns home to small-town Paris, Missouri, and discovers that his mother, Betty, is in need of full-time care. Their affection and shared humor dance around the unspoken; Hodgman is gay, a fact his parents never acknowledged.
In Bettyville, Hodgman writes with wit and empathy about all the loss he’s confronted with. Betty’s poor health is mirrored by the failure of towns like Paris, whose farms and lumberyards are now Walmarts and meth labs. Coming out in the age of AIDS, he lost the people he was close to when he had nowhere else to turn. His commitment to “see someone through. All the way home,” is medicine for his own soul as much as his mother’s.
That doesn’t mean Bettyville is without humor—far from it. Paris eccentrics (one woman shampoos her hair in the soda fountain) compete with Hodgman’s colleagues in the office of Vanity Fair. The stresses of eldercare take their toll as well: “Monitored by graph, my emotions would resemble a chart of a frenetic third world economy.”
This is a portrait of a woman in decline, but still very much alive and committed to getting the lion’s share of mini-Snickers at every opportunity. When things are left unsaid between parents and children, it leaves a hurt that can never be completely repaired, but love and dedication can make those scarred places into works of art. Bettyville is one such masterpiece.