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.
It is this “watcher” trait that makes Hodgman such a successful memoirist: He watches Betty, not always with the eye of a son, but as an observer. And he does the same with himself.
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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.
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Hodgman’s recovery—not just from substance abuse, but also from old patterns of emotional disconnection—would take years. But when he returned to Paris, it was with a greater acceptance of who he was: not the son Betty might have wanted or expected, but the son who would see her through the “strange days” of her final years of life. Movingly honest, at times droll, and ultimately poignant.
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Be prepared to laugh a little, but be prepared to cry, too, as you’re reading this fine memoir — especially if you’re a caretaker for an elderly parent. For you, for sure, “Bettyville” is a book that can’t be ignored.
Read the full review on Myrtle Beach Online
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