George Hodgman had defined himself by his work as an editor in New York City. Newly out of a job, he returns home to small-town Paris, Missouri, and discovers that his mother, Betty, is in need of full-time care. Their affection and shared humor dance around the unspoken; Hodgman is gay, a fact his parents never acknowledged.
In Bettyville, Hodgman writes with wit and empathy about all the loss he’s confronted with. Betty’s poor health is mirrored by the failure of towns like Paris, whose farms and lumberyards are now Walmarts and meth labs. Coming out in the age of AIDS, he lost the people he was close to when he had nowhere else to turn. His commitment to “see someone through. All the way home,” is medicine for his own soul as much as his mother’s.
That doesn’t mean Bettyville is without humor—far from it. Paris eccentrics (one woman shampoos her hair in the soda fountain) compete with Hodgman’s colleagues in the office of Vanity Fair. The stresses of eldercare take their toll as well: “Monitored by graph, my emotions would resemble a chart of a frenetic third world economy.”
This is a portrait of a woman in decline, but still very much alive and committed to getting the lion’s share of mini-Snickers at every opportunity. 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.