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Bettyville: A Memoir (2015)

by George Hodgman

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5012648,801 (3.9)40
"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"--… (more)
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» See also 40 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Book on CD read by Jeff Woodman

Hodgman’s elderly mother was clearly in trouble. He had lost one job and had the time to spend with her back home in Missouri. His work as an editor allowed him to continue “remotely” while he shepherded his mother along a path neither of them wanted to take. In this memoir he relates not only their fractious journey together, but the many incidents in their backgrounds that brought them to this place.

I found this tender and funny, heartbreaking and hopeful. There were times when I wanted to slap him (or Betty) upside the head and force one or both of them to face reality. There were times when I wanted to just wrap them in a blanket and give them little “now, now and there, there” comforting pats. I was reminded of the many trips I took to Texas to help my parents as they faced these same demons: of aging, of loss of independence, of loss of control, of loss of identity.

This snippet describes perfectly the relationship I had with my mother during the earlier stages of her disease process: I know she hates me sometimes. how could she not? I am the guard at the prison she will never get out of. Sometimes I am just as pent-up and angry. I loathe her too. Just a typical American family, torn between love and homicide, but united in our way.

Not that you need my opinion, George, but you did the right thing. Always.

The audiobook was masterfully performed by Jeff Woodman. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 25, 2023 |
Poignant and laugh out loud funny at times, this memoir of a sophisticated Manhattan gay writer who returns to his little hometown in Missouri to care for his irascible mother with dementia is beautifully written.It is a caregiver tale, but the undercurrent of a son whose gayness has never been accepted by his mother makes the story that much more gripping. ( )
  Aronfish | Oct 31, 2021 |
How I wish I could write as beautifully as the author. This is his story of his commitment to his 91 year old mother. George moves from a life in Manhattan, NY to care for his mother in small town Missouri. This is the tale of adjustment to living with his cantankerous mother who daily presents challenges for patience.

She is a character in every way. She is forward, kind, resilient, overbearing, sneaky, and loving, always loving!

She insists on wearing mismatched clothing while she demands to keep her well-worn sandals on her feet. A beautiful woman when young, like all who grow older, the wrinkles deepen while her spirit remains steadfast.

George calmly deals with her slide into forgetfulness, while admiring her stamina to undergo chemo for her cancer.

The town is small, but the beauty is large.

This excellently written, heart-felt homage to a mother who raised and loved her gay son is stunningly, beautifully embraced with crystal sharpness, and each page contains a tear and a smile. They grow together in acceptance of each other that calls forth as the days slip away.

Read this one. I don't think you will be disappointed!

Five Stars ( )
  Whisper1 | Aug 17, 2021 |
"Bettyville", a beautifully-written memoir from author George Hodgman, will gently break places in your heart, and then it will tenderly patch them back together with warmth and humor. George Hodgman becomes the care provider for his elderly mother, Betty, leaving his life in Manhattan behind and returning to his home town of Paris, Missouri. Having reached the age of ninety-something by living in her own indomitable manner, Betty will not go quietly into old-age oblivion. As issues such as dementia, cancer, and increasing physical frailty creep into the picture, Betty remains a force to be reckoned with. At the age of ninety-one, she chooses to fight her cancer, and begins radiation therapy. Throughout all of their rumblings and grumblings while reconnecting and acclimating to once again living in the same house, it becomes clear that there is a great love between mother and son. Seeing Betty struggle, yet refuse to surrender her spirit, leads George to discover his own personal strengths and gives him the courage to move forward with choices for his future. My own mother's name was Betty, and while our life situation was quite different from George and his mother, much of our circumstances were similar. While George left home and then came back, I stayed with my mother for almost fifty years. My Betty and I were separated only when she passed away. George and his Betty remain together. "Bettyville" is keenly-observed, poignant, and written with great heart. A recommended read for caregivers, but also for those who receive the care.

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  gincam | Sep 16, 2019 |
I came to love Betty. I don't often say that about a character - although in this case being that it's a memoir - much less about a person I've never met. But it's true. Despite George's struggles, his care and the love he has for his mother shines through with his brilliant writing. ( )
  DonnaEverhart | Mar 23, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
This superior memoir, written in a witty and episodic style, is at times heartbreaking. It's also, though just under 300 pages, an especially dense one, filled with a lifetime's worth of reflection and story after fascinating story. Starting out rather conventionally as the tale of a son's return home to rural Paris, MO, to take care of his ailing mother, Betty, the narrative slowly begins to delve into Hodgman's difficulties with self-acceptance, particularly as a gay man. While his relationship with his mother is a close one, it quickly becomes clear that his sexual orientation is chief among the many things that he and his family don't discuss. Hodgman beautifully details how much rural America has changed in the last 30 years, though not always for the better. VERDICT Readers from many backgrounds will identify with Hodgman, as he essentially presents a plea to accept everybody for who they are, no matter what their story may be, or what kinds of lives they may lead.
added by kthomp25 | editLibrary Journal Reviews
 
Be not afraid that "Bettyville" is a story about elder care, because Betty Baker Hodgman would never stand for it. Even with dementia and lymphoma, Betty is very much full of life and never tries to be anyone but herself. "'At least I'm out and out with my meanness,'" she tells her son. "'I'm not a sneak. I hate a sneak.'"
Betty isn't really mean, just direct and quick-witted — even if she struggles for words. A real tenderness runs through this poignant memoir, and its comedic qualities and sharp insights prevent it from becoming sappy...Hodgman renders Betty fully — and on this journey home, learns that he is strong enough to stay the course with her in Paris.
 
So many memoirs about caring for an ailing relative can slip into mawkish territory, but Hodgman steers clear of sentimentality. “Bettyville” is not just a memoir about a son caring for his mother; it is a book that explores the difficult terrain of long-held roles within a family, the changing landscape of a small Southern town with a long memory and the strain of growing up gay under the disapproving eye of otherwise loving parents.

Hodgman’s sharp wit carries the book ever forward; his self-deprecating humor (especially about his struggle to stay sober in the face of stress) and jokes about his expanding waistline are added with the comic timing of a seasoned satirist. But he is also honest about how he has used, and still uses, humor to stay afloat...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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This book is dedicated, first and foremost, to my best friends, my parents: George A. and Betty Baker Hodgman. Every word about them is written with love.
It is also for my grandmothers, Margaret Callison Baker and Virginia Rachel Hodgman; my great-aunt Bess Baker; my aunt June Baker; and Alice Mayhew, always loyal, every generous. Finally, it is for Madison and Paris, where so many I care about have walked. I will always remember you, good people.
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Missouri is a state of golden names, bestowed to bring the world a little closer: Versailles, Rom, Cairo, New London, Athens, Carthage, Alexandria, Lebanon, Cuba, Japan, Santa Fe, Cleveland, Canton, California, Caledonia, New Caledonia, Mexico, Louisiana.
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"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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