Wow!...Have you ever witnessed a work of art--a performance, a painting, a book--and were taken aback with awe? Have you ever witnessed a work of art by a friend and felt that sense of awe intensified? That's how I felt when I closed the hardback cover of Susan Gregg Gilmore's second novel, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.
I've written about Gilmore's smart quest to market herself in the dizzyingly confusing and dwindling market of publishing. And, also reviewed her first book, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen. The first book was enough to earn the former journalist creds in the story telling world, as backed by endorsements from Lee Smith, Darnell Arnoult and Terry Kay, among others. Not to mention, a sweet, endearing coming of age tale.
I clutched The Improper Life to my chest, carried it to class and told my Writer's Loft mentor it was a must-must read. Gilmore masterfully developed her characters, giving meaty flesh to the bones of their alluring story of yearning for love in a time of so much injustice--the turbulent 60s.
The Improper Life is a story inspired in part by Gilmore's own childhood of growing up "privileged" white (like many of us,) in a South that was more than unequal for people of color. The Improper Life deliciously spans from Nashville's beginnings through centuries and recent decades, as told by a girl-turned woman named Bezellia--the fifth in her family to bear the name. Only, as you've probably guessed, she bore it not so according to expectation.
Gilmore serves up the comfort of tasty Southern genre, as she did in Looking for Salvation. There's food, family and a little craziness thrown in, peppered with religion--that must-have ingredient of Southern fiction:
"With my head still buried in my hands, I nodded and then muttered something about Adelaide's little knitted sack and Samuel's letters. Then words like Ruddy and Reverend Foster and Johnny Cash and Jesus Christ all started blending together, forming some kind of verbal cyclone that ripped a path right through my cousin's little ear, none of it making any sense at all."
This is a book I've already given to my oldest sister who will pass it on to our other sister. And they'll pass it on to and tell their friends it's a must-read. And, even, maybe, like my sister did Looking For Salvation--I may receive back a copy with a "must-read" note--the sender forgetting I first gave it to her. For lovers of good story, for fans of ripe Southern fiction, Gilmore scores with The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. So will you.