Paris, Missouri, is about as unlike its namesake as anywhere on earth (think grain elevators instead of the Eiffel Tower, and drought-ravaged soybean fields in place of grand avenues). Growing up there, all George Hodgman thought about was getting out. And pretty quickly, he did: He moved to Manhattan, where he had a long and fruitful career as a book and magazine editor.
But in middle age, Hodgman finds himself jobless and back in Paris, caring for his 91-year-old mother, Betty, a spitfire who's battling cancer and dementia--and isn’t taking the aging process lying down.
In his gorgeous, often hilarious memoir, Bettyville, Hodgman writes about the challenges of caring for an elderly parent, particularly one who isn’t sure she approves of who he “turned out to be” (i.e., gay). Even as adults, co-existing in a setting more intimate than either would have imagined, it’s the one thing they can’t talk about.
That may sound harsh, but Hodgman is also clear that families and communities are complicated. Despite this gaping hole in their relationship, the love between mother and son is evident, and the portrait of Betty that emerges is as tender and endearing as it is exasperating.