Book clubs: A tender homecoming
In his poignant, often funny memoir, Bettyville, George Hodgman, a gay writer and editor who once worked at Vanity Fair, tells the story of returning to his Midwestern hometown to live with his obstinate, elderly mother. Unemployed and tired of his solitary existence in New York City, Hodgman goes back to tiny Paris, Missouri (population 1,246), and takes up duties as caregiver to 90-year-old Betty, who can’t be persuaded to move to an assisted-living facility. As he watches his mother decline, Hodgman takes stock of the past. His parents could never stomach his sexuality, and he grew up with feelings of inadequacy. Driven to compensate, he attained high-profile positions in the publishing world, but he also abused drugs and partied hard. For Hodgman, the return home represents a chance to make peace with the past. His portrait of Betty and his depictions of their life together are rendered with humor and tenderness. This is a beautifully written, timely memoir that will resonate with a wide range of readers.
It’s been 10 years since Kelly Link released a collection of stories aimed at an adult audience. With Get in Trouble, she returns at the top of her form, offering nine transportive pieces of fiction that display her prodigious imaginative gifts. “The Summer People” is a haunting, atmospheric tale of a girl in small-town North Carolina who takes care of vacation homes, including a strange residence with otherworldly occupants. In “The New Boyfriend,” a pampered teen’s slumber party gets thrown off course when she receives an odd birthday gift: a very lifelike Ghost Boyfriend. “I Can See Right Through You” features a has-been actor who visits his former lover in the swamps of Florida, where she’s filming a reality TV show about ghosts. Inspired by fairy tales and comic books, classic and contemporary myths, Link blends the surreal and the real to create narratives that are unforgettable—and unsettling. This is a rewarding book from one of the finest short-story writers working today.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
A finalist for the National Book Award in fiction, Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, is a masterfully crafted epic about the nature of ambition and the quest for contentment in modern-day America. At the story’s center are four buddies who move to New York City after college to kick off their careers. There’s Willem, an up-and-coming actor, good-hearted and good-looking; J.B., an enterprising painter from Brooklyn; Malcolm, a restless architect; and Jude, an introverted lawyer whose nightmarish past is key to the narrative. Yanagihara traces the men’s lives over the course of three decades, dramatizing the twists and turns of their careers, their personal histories and complex relationships with compassion and a remarkable sense of intimacy. The four friends and their richly detailed experiences stay with the reader long after the novel’s stirring finish.
This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.