The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, by Susan Gregg Gilmore – Book Review

Set in 1960’s Nashville, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, follows the aforementioned Bezellia as she navigates her sometimes treacherous adolescence. Burdened by the weight of her illustrious family name, and the heft of traditional southern society, which she at times finds onerous, Bezellia is one trying to find her own way.  Her relationship with her mother is contentious, at best, and given her mother’s mysterious past, alcoholism and mental illness, it informs Bezellia’s story in a variety of ways but especially in her closest relationships.

This is my first experience reading the work of Susan Gregg Gilmore, though firmly in the back of my mind was the popularity of her first novel, Looking For Salvation at the Dairy Queen. Based on reviewer response to that book,  I expected that  would be in for a treat with this one.  Bezellia Grove builds slowly as the reader acclimates to the lush and beautiful settings, societal eccentricities and the quirky characters inhabiting Bezellia’s life . I really felt for Bezellia and was caught up in seeing how she would deal in the face of her father’s relentless absenteeism and her mother’s cruel streak.  Bezellia forms extremely close bonds with the household staff, Maizelle and Nathaniel. They understand what goes on in her life and seek to buffer her from some of it, but even those relationships become more tense when Bezellia and Samuel, Nathaniel’s intelligent and handsome son, take a mutual interest in each other.

I enjoyed the way the problematic nature of this interracial relationship was explored within the context that Bezellia would have understood it .  Her existence, though troubled, is a privileged one and Samuel is able to open her eyes to the way she comes across, and is perceived but others, but her yearning, behavior, and understanding is still tempered by the world she knows and how she has been raised.

Gilmore does a great job in crafting characters that the reader grows to care for deeply and I was intensely curious about the life that Bezellia would choose to lead in light of her experiences.  Though the novel is fraught with alcoholism, mental illness, troubled relationships, and abuse of power by the privileged class, there is a levity that keeps it from ever becoming overwhelming. The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is satisfying exploration of what constitutes love and how the bonds of love can be irrevocably changed by well meaning acts.  This is a novel easily enjoyed for one’s own pleasure or with a book group.

Read More Reviews At: Bermudaonion

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Amy and I chatted with Susan Gregg Gilmore on The Underground Literary Society about The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove, her inspiration for writing about  Bezellia, and Susan’s favorite books exploring the mother daughter relationship.  Catch our conversation with Susan at the 16 minute mark.

Review Copy.

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  1. Great review. I have noticed that daughters having a troubled relationship with there moms have the most difficult times. Sounds like a good book and Samuel sounds like a good character.

  2. The title alone made me want to read this. Don’t you just love a good book title. But between your review and Kathy @ Bermudaonion I’m going to have to order this one sooner rather than later. Thanks for the nudge.

  3. This one does sound like a great one for book club discussion and dare I say a good one for movie adaptation?

  4. I agree that it sounds like a good book club choice. I like mother-daughter stories, even ones that are very far from my own relationship with my mom.

  5. Hi there! Just wanted to say how much I particularly appreciated your comment about character development. That is something I continue to work on. In fact, for the book I’m writing now, I have spent hours getting to know each one of the characters. This is something Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle taught me to do this summer. So I sit down with a legal pad and write all sorts of thoughts about each one. For example, Lotha cooks a potato casserole for Wednesday night church suppers. She collects miniature silver spoons. Her hair is short and gray and curly. She hates the color blue. And so on. By the time I sit down to write, I know them so well that I can kind of get out of the way and let them show me where the story needs to go.