This book, written by an editor who formerly worked for publishing houses and Vanity Fair, begins as the account of George returning to the small town of Paris, Missouri to care for his aging mother, Betty. At ninety, she is exhibiting signs of dementia, and is failing physically. George is determined to care for her in her home, the one her husband (George’s father, Big George) built for them when they moved from Madison. The wisdom of such a decision is questioned every day, not just by family members, friends or health professionals, but by George himself. They do struggle and if you are looking for a rosy little book full of platitudes about aging and death and love conquering all, blah blah blah, this ain’t it. It’s not entirely without hope but there are no easy answers or resolutions.
Growing up gay in a small midwestern town in the seventies was no picnic. Add to these pressures the atmosphere at home. While one of love and closeness, these people never talk about the real things, the real issues that concern our daily lives. While it is assumed that his parents know he is gay by the time he is living in New York City and vacationing on Fire Island it is never discussed while his father is alive. Late in the book (which does jump back and forth in time) Betty asked George if one of his friends, David, is gay. He replies that he isn’t sure but goes on to state “But you know I am. Surely. After all this time, you must understand this.” Some time passes as they drive on and finally she says, “I had thought it would pass.” This is the only time they ever discuss it openly. He asks if she and his father ever discussed it and she says that after seeing the tv movie An Early Frost, he said about the father in the film, “He hated it, but he loved his son.” She claims this is the only time the subject came up and was “discussed”.
The tone of the book is by turns ironic and snarky, clear-eyed and tender, tortured and self-flagellating. I gotta hand it to Hodgman, he does not try to sugar coat things or make himself or his mother look good. I became exasperated with the both of them sometimes but I finished the book because it was was compelling and messy, like life.