The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove
Susan Gregg Gilmore
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Aug 17 2010, $23.00
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.