The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove
By Susan Gregg Gilmore
(Crown, Hardcover, 9780307395030, 272pp.)
Susan Gregg Gilmore knocks the pound cake out of the park (to mix my southern lit and sport metaphores) with her latest novel, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.
Continuing to write about the South of the mid-20th century, Susan captures life in Nashville "society" in the 60's and early 70's. Bezellia would be from the other side of the tracks, per se, from Catherine Grace, the heroine in Susan's first delightful novel (Looking For Salvation At The Dairy Queen), but they have much in common. Bezellia, like Catherine Grace, has no mother (so to speak) to look after her and relies on others in her house to guide her through life. In this case, it is her housekeeper and handyman. In the course of growing up and maturing, Bezellia meets and falls in love with her handyman's son, a young African-American names Sam. They both know their relationship is wrong by each of their societies' standards, but embark on something much deeper than a summer crush. However, Bezellia's home life, what little of it we could call a life, takes her time and energy away from Sam and toward another. While there are inklings of a love triangle, this book is so much more than a romance. It is also more than a commentary on the status of mixed relationships in the south in the 60's, it is more than a story of the haves and have nots of Nashville. At the heart of the story is a strong young lady who finds what she needs in the people that surround her and not her family (much like Catherine Grace).
I think that is why I enjoyed this book so much. It had the underlyings of all these big issues (I can't mention them all here so as not to spoil the story, but a popular theraputic techinique comes into play, too), but it was not a preachy story on race or the South's hierarchical society ... it's story about an ordinary girl. I fell in love with Bezellia the girl, Bezellia the legend, and Bezellia the story; and I hope you do too.
Note: Susan will join us for a traditional tea on Wednesday, August 25th at 4pm to talk about her writing. The event is free but reservations are requested.