Friday, August 5, 2011

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore — 272 pgs

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove: A NovelBezellia Grove is an young and affluent Southern girl who has inherited her unusual name from a long line of affluent Bezellias. But this Bezellia is more than she appears and is living a most unusual life behind the closed doors of her plantation style home in Tennessee. Though she’s passionate and expressive, Bezellia and her younger sister Adeliade live in fear of their sometimes abusive and always neglectful mother, while the girls’ father is unusually quiet and absent most of the time. This leaves Bezellia to be raised by the two African-American house servants, Maizelle and Nathaniel, who become a set of quasi-parents to the two troubled girls. As Bezellia finds her faltering way through adolescence and young adulthood, she will become affected by a horrific family accident and and engage in an illicit and innocent love that will change her and shape her future. And just when it seems that things can’t get any more complicated for Bezellia, she begins to uncover a few haunting secrets about her mother’s past that may begin to explain the woman she’s become. In this beautiful and intricate southern tale filled with heartbreak, longing and redemption, the irrepressible Bezellia Grove and her very unique life spin outward into the minds of readers who might discover that being true to yourself is sometimes the hardest job of all.

It’s not often that I read a book that so touches me and makes me fall in love so helplessly with its main character. It’s also not often that I sit up until the wee hours of the morning racing to finish a story that I can’t seem to put down. But it does happen, and it happened with The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. Between the magic and perfect cadence of Gilmore’s writing, and the nerve twisting story of Bezellia’s life, I ended up completely surrendering to my love for this book and reading avidly to find out what would become of this very unusual girl who lived a very unconventional life.

From the first few pages, the relationship between Bezellia and her mother become painfully obvious. While Bezellia was just beginning to explore the world around her and find her place in it, her mother was dutifully trying to shove her into little prescribed boxes of her own making. And really, Bezellia was, and remained, the antithesis of her mother throughout the book’s permutations. It was tragic to see the forlorn Bezellia hungering for her mother’s love; a love that would never be granted to her. It was even more disheartening to watch Bezellia’s mother slowly spiral away from the people who loved her into greater abuses and tantrums, slowly being enveloped by alcoholism. While Bezellia’s mother was either climbing the rickety social ladder or drinking, both Bezellia and her sister grew very attached to Maizelle and Nathaniel, who took the children under their wing and cared for them as their own. Very early on Bezellia realizes that the marginalization of these two people, and the black community in general, is sickeningly unfair, and though she tries to shift the balance of power for them and with them, it proves a huge wedge to move on her own. The balance of power that exists in her home is one that is unfortunately not rare for that time period, and though Bezellia kicks and bucks it away, she’s also hindered by social custom and the narrow-mindedness of the time.

When Bezellia falls in love with a socially unsuitable match, her predicament draws all kinds of attention, and it’s attention that she desperately wants to ignore and avoid. It’s a love that she feels is destined for her, and though society tries to dictate to her about the unacceptable nature of this relationship, Bezellia refuses to listen. But this isn’t the only problem she’s having, because her family life is in ever increasing shambles. Bezellia finds herself the head of her family, the one who everyone looks to for answers. It’s a confusing and heartbreaking time for her, but she never seems to loose her pluck, and her reserves, though at an all time low, don’t ever seem to be depleted. I admired Bezellia during these sections because she carried loads that her narrow shoulders should have never been responsible for. Gilmore creates her Bezellia with vigor and aplomb, packing her heroine with an unflappable desire for individuality and freedom that takes her into unexpected places and situations, and carries her through some of the most difficult times a young woman can face. Though her life is stilted and hobbled by her troubles, Bezellia finds a way to gracefully maintain equilibrium.

For the most part, the thing that I made me feel so connected to this book was my total immersion into Bezellia’s life and my complete sympathy for her story. Bezellia wasn’t the type of character to willingly force herself into contortions of emotion that weren’t authentic to her, which made life a lot harder for someone who lived in a home where appearances were everything, both inside and outside the doors. She was also an idealist in a place where her ideals aren’t appreciated or understood, which pitted her against even those who she loved and regarded with respect. Her overwhelming desire to be loved in “the right way” often compromised her emotional stability, and is a factor of her personality that I think a lot of women will understand. Bezellia’s uncomfortable and fraught relationship with her mother is also packed with landmines for her character’s development and growth, and in some ways I could really relate to her struggles in this area. She was a very real character with some very realistic flaws and attributes that made me care for her almost instantly.

This was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, for many reasons that I stated above. In addition, Gilmore’s writing was very smooth and fluid and made it easy for me to become thoroughly submerged. She held me captivated in her storyteller’s hands until that final haunting conclusion. If you haven’t read this wonderful story yet, I would highly recommend it. I think it would strike the perfect chord in many different readers, and would be appreciated by many.

See Susan Gregg Gilmore's biography here.



This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

21 comments:

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Beautiful review! I'm glad you liked this. I enjoyed it quite a bit, myself!

Jenny said...

Wow!! Those are some really amazing things yousaid about this book! Along with Sandy's raving review I'm now convinced this is a must read! It's a shame I didn't pick this one up at the UCF thing!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm so glad you were able to get to this book. YOu know we will see the adorable Gilmore at SIBA. The book totally swept me off my feet, and the thing is, I was surprised at the depth of the plot and emotion. I guess from the cover I thought it was a light book but it was not. This was a five star for me.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great review! Sounds like yet another book about people worrying about who OTHER people fall in love with! I say they should get a hobby or something!

Aths said...

I love the sound of this one. I have heard of this before but wasn't too interested then, but now I need to check this out. I also just realized that it's been ages since I read a southern book!

Audra said...

Another great review -- I would normally pass this up but you've got me curious!

TheBookGirl said...

Your review is so compelling Heather. I never would have guessed there was such depth to this book from the synopsis I read somewhere else. While I love Southern fiction, I think I sort of dismissed this one, which, in lightof your review, appears to have been a mistake. A book that has affected you as much as this one clearly did, is one I want to investigate further. Wonderful review as always :)

Jenny said...

Southern fiction is not always the best thing for me -- I don't know why! I am from the South and I love the South! -- but you are making this sound wonderful! Stories about parents and children break my heart.

Anita said...

As you know, I loved this book so very much, I'm happy to read you did too. I hope we can really spread the word by sharing it!!

Suko said...

Wonderfully written review! This sounds like a book I'd also appreciate greatly. I've entered this giveaway, and will post it in my sidebar as well.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book too. Susan actually came to my book club and we talked about the book for hours!

Alison's Book Marks said...

What a beautifully written review. The books that keep me up at night are few and far between - this speaks volumes about how engaging this book is. I'll be adding Susan's novel to my TBR list!

Jenners said...

I know Sandy is a big fan of this author, and it seems you are too. If nothing else, she is a master of thinking of unusal but striking names!

Suzanne said...

Great review -- I loved this book as well. Have you read her first novel - Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen? It is equally amazing.

Amy said...

I'm excited that you enjoyed this book so much! I thought from other reviews I've read that it would be enjoyable but many of them made it sound rather light. Now I know there's substance and intrigue in the story and it's not all light and care-free. In fact, Bezellia's life sounds a little disturbing at times. I usually like southern fiction and this sounds like one of the best in a long time.
Thank you for such a fantastic and comprehensive review :o)

Milli said...

It sounds brilliant! Wonder-striking review (:

Margie said...

Great review! Thanks for the giveaway.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I won this a little bit ago from Kathy and still need to read it! Oy!

Geosi said...

This would go down on my tbr. You seem to have enjoyed it so well. Your recommendation accepted.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

wow - any book that keeps a reader up past bedtime is one I need to take a look at!

I've been enjoying some southern fiction, and have THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE on my tbr. Between your high praise - and that of Kathy and Sandy - I feel you're all pushing it personally into my hands.

Darlene said...

I have wanted to read this book for the longest time. It really does sound like a really good novel. Great review!

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