Title: The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove
Author: Susan Gregg Gilmore
Publication Date: 2010
Purchase Price: $23.00 (Hardcover)
What is it with me and my recent reads quoting Shakespeare? Maybe it’s because no matter what anyone says or writes, it’s inevitable that Shakespeare said or wrote it better. Ah well, on to the review!
Bezellia Grove has an unusual name, and an unusual family history to go with it. Bezellia’s namesake is rumored to have killed three Indian warriors after grabbing the gun from her murdered husband’s hands. Since then, the first daughter of the oldest male has been given the honor and burden of the unusual name.
The most recent Bezellia is born into the wealthy Southern family in the spring of 1951. Hemmed in by the trappings of society life, Bezellia’s mother is an alcoholic who treats both her children and her servants like property. She is obsessed with creating the perfect family life, but her husband’s neglect, as well as some secrets of her own, prevents a happy life for Bezellia and her younger sister.
Although it deals with abuse, racial and societal tensions, and numerous other heavy subjects, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is really about one decision: Who should you be — the person your family expects you to be, or who you truly are?
Several weeks after reading Bezellia, I still can’t decide whether or not I liked it.
On one hand, the writing is excellent, and Gilmore captures perfectly the essence of the 1950s and 1960s in the American South.
Bezellia is a wonderful character, strong and unrelenting — I admire her tenacity. I don’t pretend to understand her situation, but I still identify with her and wish her well.
And yet…well, honestly, I just didn’t like the ending. I will readily admit that that is a weakness of mine: If I don’t like the ending, I find it very difficult to like any part of the book.
The ending was the correct one, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the book’s conclusion, I think that The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is an excellently written book, and is well worth at least checking out from the library, if not an outright purchase.
If you’re tired of the stale, picturesque depictions of a perfect and flowery south, and want to read about a young woman who takes after her strong ancestress, then you should definitely check out Gilmore’s novel.
As a side note, I love the author’s choices in book titles. Bezellia implies all sorts of mischief and breaking with ties and traditions, and it definitely follows through on that.
It definitely makes me want to check out Gilmore’s other book, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen. I bet that one’s got all sorts of fun stuff.
“She washed and ironed all of my clothes, even my undershirts, and prepared by baths in the evenings, and somewhere in between she sang me songs about freedom and grace, swaying from one hip to the other as if rhythm of her voice kept her body in perfect balance.” (p. 5)
Can you still enjoy a book, even if you don’t like the ending? Are there any name/naming traditions in your family?