In Bettyville, George Hodgman, who had a major career in editing and publishing in New York City, writes of moving home to Paris, Missouri to care for his elderly mother, Betty, who’s never acknowledged that her son is gay. In the opening scene, Hodgman is roused by a fretful Betty in the middle of the night: “[h]ere she is, all ninety years of her, curlers in disarray, … peeking into our guest room where I have been mostly not sleeping. It is the last place in America with shag carpet. In it, I have discovered what I believe to be a toenail from high school.” Like Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Hodgman’s Bettyvillecaptures the exhaustion, sorrow and moments of absurdity involved in caring for elderly loved ones.
Unlike her first memoir, the now classic, Just Kids, which was all about the thrill of “becoming,” Patti Smith’s incantatory M Trainis mostly about the challenge of enduring erosion and discovering new passions (like detective fiction and a tumbledown cottage in Rockaway Beach, Queens). Smith, of course, is a “kid” no longer. She’s now 68 and she’s suffered a lot of losses, including the deaths of artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who was her partner in crime in the Just Kids years, and her husband, musician Fred “Sonic” Smith, who died suddenly in his 40s. “They are all stories now,” says Smith, thinking of these and other deaths. The narrative of M Train, fittingly, is fragmented and incantatory, more like Smith’s distinctive song lyrics. At bottom, though, both of Smith’s memoirs tell a haunting story about being sheltered and fed, in all senses, by New York City.
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