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Bettyville: A Memoir


Bettyville: A Memoir

“Where am I? Not in my apartment; there are no sirens, horns, or streaks of neon shining through the blinds. This is not Manhattan, not Chelsea, not West Twenty-third Street. I am home, in Paris, Missouri, population 1,246 and falling. Living here, I say to myself, for just a few more days or weeks. For now. Until Carol, the good-hearted farm woman who helps watch out for Betty, recovers from surgery on her rotator cuff. Or until my mother can be admitted to an assisted living facility. Until there is rain, or Betty’s spirits mend, or I get a regular job again. Until something happens on Sherwood Road, and my mother is gone, and I must close up shop.”

This tenderhearted, contemplative memoir opens with George Hodgman returning to his native Missouri to celebrate his mother Betty’s birthday. The brief visit turns into an extended stay when Hodgman unexpectedly finds himself assuming the role of her primary caretaker.

"...[a] tenderhearted, contemplative memoir... Throughout the book, Hodgman subtly describes the simple joys of everyday life at home...while sharing his quiet observations of the natural world."

“Age is taking everything away,” Hodgman writes, referring not only to his 90-year old mother’s health --- her blurred vision, fading hearing and dementia --- but also her gradual loss of independence. After backing her car into a ditch, Betty must surrender her driver’s license. “Accustomed to fending for herself” around the house, she slaps the air, getting testy with her son when he comes too close or tries to offer help. Although Betty’s “will remains at blast-force strength,” the aging parent resembles “a lost girl with sad eyes,” whimpering, moaning or crying out loud in the middle of the night.

Fully admitting that “caring for things --- flowers or people --- has never been [his] strong point,” Hodgman is absorbed with worry, concerned about doing right by his mother. Chronicling the daily challenges of being an “unlikely guardian,” he half-jokingly ponders if his “12-step group might pass some sort of humanitarian injunction allowing [him] to ingest one tiny Xanax on an emergency basis.”

Throughout the book, Hodgman subtly describes the simple joys of everyday life at home (“a bowl of fresh strawberries remains a thing of beauty”), while sharing his quiet observations of the natural world. “The sky is our sea here, our object of contemplation in all its moods and shades,” he says, adding, “My father loved to watch, in the autumn, the long scarves of lonely birds, flying finally together, toward home.”

Living away from New York City (“its stories, castoffs and characters of dubious reputation”), distant from the drama of the publishing world, exiled from his gay social circle, Hodgman returns home with fresh eyes, yet peers through the lens of his past. The dutiful son intimately imparts his wistful coming-of-age story, recounting his sexual awakenings and profound longing for acceptance. In BETTYVILLE, he explores “the real country” --- not just Missouri’s lush, rolling fields, but the Mississippi’s rolling brown waters with its strong emotional undercurrents of silences, loss and love.

Reviewed by Miriam Tuliao on March 13, 2015

Bettyville: A Memoir
by George Hodgman

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2016
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0143107887
  • ISBN-13: 9780143107880