Posted by Debbi Benedict on August 31, 2016
I was looking forward to reading this book, Bettyville: A Memoir, by George Hodgman. I had seen a segment about it, along with the author and his mother, Betty, on CBS Sunday Morning, my favorite show. The book was pretty good. It made me laugh out loud several times. I think the first part of the book was much stronger than the second part. Isn’t it interesting how we have certain expectations of books before we read them and most of the time, if they aren’t as we anticipate, we are disappointed. That’s the way it was with this selection.
The book started out telling about George’s return to his hometown in Missouri to take care of his ailing mother, Betty. His mother is definitely a character! I thought it was going to be about his return to small town America as a gay man after spending much of his adult life in glamorous New York City and all the quirky characters he encountered. Well, not really so much.
The second half of the book dealt a lot with his past life in NYC, which was not funny at all and I thought, rather boring. It was mainly about the time when AIDS hit the gay community and people were dying left and right. During that time he also had a major drug problem. He was a successful magazine and book editor also during that time, but he writes very little about that.
One of the frustrating things about how the book was written was that he would jump all around between characters and time frames within the same page and I would have to stop and think, “Now, what is he talking about?”
A lot of the book deals with how he and his parents never talk about anything really important in regards to “feelings”. They never really acknowledge that he is gay and certainly never talk about it in any way. When his father becomes ill and dies, it is never talked about, and the same with his mother when she becomes ill. It’s just kind of weird. George says how Betty never mentions his father after his death in 1997. He says, “She is silent about loss”. I guess I can kind of identify with that. After my dad died when I was 10, we never really talked about him or our feelings about the whole situation either.
George waxes poetically also about the death of small towns in the Midwest, how they are vanishing and that their downtowns are boarded up. He said he read a book that said that three things changed rural America: the breakup of the family farm; Wal-Mart; and meth. I grew up in a small town and I believe that to be true.
One interesting tidbit – in the book, George mentions a trip his family took many years ago to Sarasota for a long weekend. He doesn’t really say what they did or where exactly they stayed, he just says they stayed in a hotel in Sarasota. It was all kind of random.
So, would I recommend this book. Hmm, not really. As I said, there were some truly funny lines in the first half where I literally laughed out loud several times, but I could barely get through the second half. What did you think? Did it resonate with you? If so, in what way? Please leave me a comment below on the blog or on Facebook. I’d love to know what you thought about Bettyville!
The last book in our summer book club series is our September selection, Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp. I am really looking forward to this one. I think it may be the best one of summer! I will post about it on Sept. 26th. Shortly after that I will get back to my regular posting on my blog after my summer hiatus and we’ll choose our fall book club picks, along with all things edible landscaping, urban farming, and homesteading! Oh, and in case you didn’t see my post on Facebook, I also have a new writing gig with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Style monthly magazine, where I will have a new column starting in October called, Palm Trees & Pearls. Make sure you look for it!