“Bettyville”: George Hodgman, Gay Son, Caregiver to Elderly Mom

George Hodgman spent his entire life as an outside observer, first as a closeted gay kid in 1970s Missouri and later as an editor at Vanity Fair in New York City, and it’s clear he’s more comfortable meditating on others’ lives than his own. ‘The thing about being a watcher is this,’ he writes. ‘You are never really a part of things.’ Bill Keith, ew.com, reviewing Bettyville

George Hodgman isn’t unique in his experience of moving far away (in this case, Manhattan to small-town Paris, Missouri) in order to help an aging parent in early stages of dementia, but his new memoir Bettyville adds a different twist: not only is he gay, but his mom, 90-year-old Betty, has never accepted this—and now she’ll never be able to.

Picked for The Amazon Spotlight recently, the following excerpt is from their review:

…Hodgman’s parents didn’t approve of who he ‘turned out to be,’ which was as specific as they were willing to get on the matter. Any gaps in their understanding were filled with an insidious silence that kept this otherwise loving family at arm’s length…Bettyville serves as a poignant cautionary tale about the dangers of leaving difficult things unsaid…

Hodgman had come out to his parents in his 40’s, many years before he went back to care for her. Gee Henry, Out Magazine, spoke with the author about his attempts to address the issue with his mom then and since:

We talked about it. It wasn’t the greatest interaction we ever had. Then we talked about it a little more. Every time I brought it up, she seemed surprised that I hadn’t changed. I think she thought gay was sort of like having a cold or maybe being pregnant. It was kind of temporary. Gay is just not part of her experience here.

…Anyway, we have evolved a way of loving and supporting each other that doesn’t involve conversations about things that are uncomfortable for her…

Cathy Horyn, New York Times, deems Hodgman’s memoir to represent “the irony of ironies: He yearned for his parents to see him in full — and he accepts that they could not — but in setting down his mother’s life, he has brought immeasurable understanding to it.”

What Else Do We Learn About Betty?

Horyn concludes “…Rarely has the subject of elder care produced such droll human comedy, or a heroine quite on the mettlesome order of Betty Baker Hodgman. For as much as the book works on several levels (as a meditation on belonging, as a story of growing up gay and the psychic cost of silence, as metaphor for recovery), it is the strong-willed Betty who shines through.”

Bookpage: “Betty’s poor health is mirrored by the fail­ure of towns like Paris, whose farms and lumberyards are now Walmarts and meth labs…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.”

Richard Blanco, U.S. inaugural poet: “…(W)hat I will most remember is the human struggle of Betty—the woman at the window, the woman at the piano, the woman whose desire to help others represents the best of small-town America. The silence she was taught and the complications of our parents’ journeys to be there for us, as best they could, is what I will take away from Bettyville, where she will always reside. Hers is the quiet love that outlasts the distances and lets us survive.”

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