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The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

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  • Posted September 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bezellia is a character one can relate to

    Born in 1951, Bezellia was named after her father's ancestor, a woman who fought off Indians who attacked their Nashville settlement. Young Bezellia wore her ancestor's moniker proudly, hoping to live up to the first Bezellia's name. Bezellia's father was a wealthy and busy doctor, from a well respected Nashville family. Her mother was a woman from 'the wrong side of the tracks' who desperately desired to fit into Nashville society. She was an unhappy woman, of whom Bezellia said "Mother with a cup of coffee in her hand was not a particularly kind or attentive person and (that) Mother with a gin and tonic in her hand was simply mean and withdrawn." Two household servants, Maizelle and Nathaniel, were loyal to the Grove family. Like another Southern novel, Kathryn Stockett's popular The Help, they were always available to provide the care and attention to Bezellia and her younger sister that they didn't get from their parents. Bezellia's mother treated them badly, and Maizelle and Nathaniel usually took it without complaint (except when Maizelle would occasionally spit into her boss's cup of coffee), although since the book is written from Bezellia's point of view, perhaps that is how Bezellia saw it. Another recent novel, Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin, showed a more troubled and realistic relationship between the white employers and their black household employees. Nathaniel's son Samuel comes to help his father one day, and sparks fly between Samuel and Bezellia. Nashville in the 1960s was not a place where a young white lady and a young black man could have an open relationship, and if Bezellia's mother or other townspeople found out, all hell would break loose. The setting of the novel in the 1960s is key, as it addresses the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and the feminist movement through the eyes of young people. It was an exhilarating, frightening time for all, but especially for young adults looking for their place in the world. What I though this novel addressed really well was the concept of how your youthful experiences follow you through to adulthood. As the story progresses, we see why Bezellia's mother, who is a very unsympathetic character, became the sad, lonely, bitter alcoholic she was. She ends up being the most complex character in the novel. It also addresses an age-old dilemma for young people; what do you owe your family and what do you owe yourself? Bezellia goes away to college, but when family issues press, she must decide what comes first: her responsibility to family or to herself. Many readers will be able to relate to that. At various points in the novel newspaper articles about the Grove family are inserted. It gives the reader a perspective of the family from the town's point of view. The first page is Bezellia's birth notice and the final page is her death notice, but perhaps Gilmore will grace us with the two-thirds of Bezellia's life that isn't in the book. She is a character worthy of more exploration.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2010

    Bezellia Doesn't Disappoint

    Susan Gregg Gilmore's second novel, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, once again captures the true spirit of southern living. For those of us who feel a special affinity for the traditions and values of a southern upbringing, Susan's words and stories carry special meaning. When reading her stories, you can almost feel the warmth of a Georgia evening or envision the high bluffs of the Chattanooga hills. She continues to bring wonderful stories to life - I can't wait to read what comes next in the Gregg-Gilmore legacy!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is an interesting look at the life of a white southern female as she struggles with her desires and what her heritage allows

    In Nashville, teenager Bezellia Grove knows her affluent family is dysfunctional mostly due to her shrewish sop of a mother but also somewhat due to a cowardly father. He hides at work while she tears into the help (Maizelle Cooper the maid and Nathaniel Stephenson the chauffeur), and her daughter as the affluent glamour image is what the matriarch thrives for. Bezellia turns to the Black employees for a sense of family and does her best to protect her younger sister Adelaide from mommy dearest.

    In 1965 then fourteen years old Bezellia and Nathaniel's son Samuel are attracted to each other, but kept apart as unacceptable by their families for different reasons. Three years later, Bezellia visiting her maternal grandparents meets the farmer's son wannabe singer Ruddy Semple; he also is from an unacceptable family but his whiteness makes him a few notches above Samuel. Bezellia goes to college as the family hits economic hard times and dark secrets surface.

    This is an interesting look at the life of a white southern female as she struggles with her desires and what her heritage allows. Although the story line is overly fashioned with a zillion too many regional stereotypes that survive (in this novel) well into the twenty-first century, Bezellia's internal conflict between her southern belle upbringing and her improper lifestyle makes for an overall fine saga. Susan Gregg Gilmore's underlying premise is that we have come a long way since the 1950s thanks to pioneers risking their places (and lives) in society, but also have a long way left to journey, if equality is to become the de facto way of life.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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