I picked up Bettyville, by George Hodgman expecting an interesting story of a son and a mother. Being that I have 4 sons myself, the story of their relationship was a draw and plus I just love stories about women of a certain age (in this case 90+). Let me just say, it did not disappoint.
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase
through the link I get a wee bit of compensation. Thanks!
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 New York Times bestselling debut is both an indelible portrait of a family and an exquisitely told tale of a prodigal son’s return.
When I choose a new book to read or listen to I have varying degrees of expectation. Sometimes I’m looking for a quick escape. Sometimes a distraction. Sometimes a mystery or thriller or a puzzle to solve. In this case, I thought I was going to engage in a great story with an interesting heroine and a bit of fun. Bettyville turned out to be all of that and so much more.
In my early 20’s I attended a Southern Baptist church where I was taught the Bible is the end all. The Word of God. Meant to be taken very literally. I still believe this today.
The Bible is the Word of God. Every word in it is the Truth. And yet, sometimes I don’t understand the words. The meaning. The culture. The interpretation. I am only human.
And it’s perfectly OK if there are things in The Word that are clear as mud as long as I remember the most important thing… to love people.
One of those things in the Bible that is confusing for me is Homosexuality. While I am not gay, I have dear friends and family that are and I love them very much. Often times it is difficult, as a straight person, to reconcile what the Bible says and what the preacher says about being gay with what we experience with our gay friends and what the world has to say about it.
That being said, this book shed some amazing light on what it means and meant to be homosexual in the 20th century. What it was like to grow up in the 50’s, 60’s and so on being gay. The horrific things that parents said to their sons, the difficult world of secrets, of HIV and AIDS. Even the question of nature vs. nurture.
Bettyville gave me so many things to think about.
There were many, many themes in this book – homosexuality, dementia, culture issues, generational issues and more. George Hodgman is adept at weaving his story through all of them.
Today, tho, I am going to focus on what hit me the deepest.
I am just a midwestern girl. I grew up in a fairly normal midwestern family. I am a middle-of-the-road kind of Minnesota Nice. I’ve had my share of loss and pain, but I have not struggled with the identity issues, the self-doubt or the self-loathing that George has.
George knew at a very young age that something was “wrong” with him. He was “not right”. He spent his entire life trying to be OK with it. He goes into great detail about his private thoughts, his relationship with his father and mother, and the special balance that was their family. It is truly fascinating.
George’s parents didn’t acknowledge George’s “difference”. At one point Betty sends young George and his father on a fishing trip. Neither of them has any interest in fishing, but that is what fathers and sons do and that is what Betty has planned.
In the middle of fishing, young George throws his pole into the lake and they decide to do something else. They go to the movies and see Funny Girl! George loves it so much that on the way home Big George has to tell him to quit singing the songs and act more “normal”.
This is just a small glimpse into what George’s life was like. The constant battle between embracing the truth and trying to be someone he’s not.
Is that really OK? Betty was a good mom. She tried her best to navigate raising her son. But she wanted him to be “Normal”. Her kind of “Normal”. And yet, how is that any different from what we all do as moms and dads?
We want our children to be free to be whoever they are unless that is someone we don’t understand or disapprove of.
We want them to pursue friends, jobs, schools, whatever as long as they fit into our dreams for them.
But what if that isn’t their reality?
What if they choose friends we don’t approve of? What if they aren’t who we think they are? What if we disagree with their choices, their worldview, their values?
Do we ignore it? Do we talk with our spouses about it in the quiet of the night? Do we pray for them to be free from themselves and their demons?
What would God have us do? After all, he has created our children. He has designed them right down to the very hairs on their head. And he has given these children to us to care for, hasn’t he?
So we go to the source. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
Leviticus 18:22 is the go-to verse. “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Interesting. Many would say that this verse gives us reason to judge homosexuals as detestable. But what else does Leviticus say?
Leviticus 19:19 “Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” Hmmm. I’m pretty sure my jeans are part cotton, part lycra or something stretchy. 🙂
Erica Williams Simon states it very clearly on Upworthy.com
“We’ve all heard that Leviticus is where the Bible straight-up says that homosexual behavior is an abomination. And yes, it does. It also says that homosexuals should receive the death penalty (!!!). It also says the same thing about eating pork or shellfish, charging interest on loans, and a whole bunch of other restrictions that were a part of the Old Testament Law Code. But for Christians, the Old Testament doesn’t (dare I say “shouldn’t?”) settle any issue because Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the law. Which is probably why most Christians today eat meat, use credit cards, wear makeup, and support equality for women. Because, as Hebrews 8:13 says, the old law is obsolete and aging.”
My intent here is not to mock the Bible – you know me. I am a true believer! My intent is to ask you to think about what you really know to be true?
Matthew Vines is an interesting young man. He is smart. He is a believer. And he is gay.
I know what you are thinking. Hop on down from your soap box and get back to the book review but you see, this is the book review.
I love a book that makes me think. Makes me dig deeper into a topic. Makes me question ideas and truth.
Bettyville did all of that for me.
5 Etymons for Bettyville by George Hodgman!