I’ve caught a lot of lucky breaks (or unmerited graces) in my life. For instance, I had two superb editors at Henry Holt, which in 2003 published Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, and both have gone on to write books that will endure. Tom Bissell (a native of Escanaba in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) acquired my manuscript; his works include the brilliantly idiosyncratic travelogues Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia and The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. When Tom left Henry Holt, Muckdog Gazette was handed off to George Hodgman, a native of Paris, Missouri.

Despite his lack of interest in the arcana of 19th-century Anti-Masonry, George was an editorial master of concision and concinnity. He also gave the book its title. I was calling it Fortunate Son, ripping off CCR’s best song, but nobody likes a copycat.

George is the author of a profoundly moving new memoir, Bettyville (Viking), about his return to Paris (Show-Me State division) to act as “care inflictor” for his 90-year-old mother. (This link is to amazon but to hell with that behemoth. Buy from your local independent bookstore.)

The book, which is shooting up the best-seller lists–who says talent is never rewarded at the box office?–is being acclaimed as a beautifully told story of a gay son and his mother, but it is more than that: Bettyville is about the pull of home, the mysteries of kinship, the complicated joys of repatriation. It is not so much about coming out as it is about coming home.

Growing up, writes George, “I knew that, somehow, I did not fit exactly; but this was my home. I loved my home.” After a quarter-century in the Vampire City, a whirl of white powder and Vanity Fair and therapy and editing Madonna and books about Henry James, George finds himself out of work. Adrift. F-cked up. He returns to Paris, where his mother begs him, “Don’t put me in a place with a lot of old people.”

The dutiful son, at once filiopietistic and frustrated that his mother and late father remained stubbornly ignorant of his life and loves and disappointments and joys in New York, moves in with Mom, because “sometime, at least once, everyone should see someone through. All the way home.”

Betty Hodgman is a tart, frank, unsentimental church organist, a prayerful friend to those who need one. She has in her senescence grown brittle and needy herself, resisting mightily her creeping dementia, fearful that her 50ish son, her only child, will abandon her. He won’t.

George is a great storyteller but this book is also about stories not told, specifically his drug abuse and his homosexuality, the latter of which occupies the spaces between the words in his family. It’s not like the tea leaves weren’t readable: as a boy George enjoyed As the World Turns, read Ladies’ Home Journal, and once convinced his father to ditch a fishing outing and let him watch Funny Girl.

George is an immensely likeable narrator, even when he’s behaving badly. Two sample one-liners:

–On his Manhattan barber, with his jet black hair and natty red shirt: “He looked like the best man at the wedding of Satan.”
–On the stray dog whose adoption he arranges: “I have named him Nicky, which suits his warm nature, but which can be shortened to Nick if he gambles or is drawn toward organized crime.”

George’s love and understanding of his little hometown and its cast of flesh-and-blood characters illuminate every page of this book. He seems to have repatriated, at least seasonally, and why not, for how you gonna keep ’em down in the city once they’ve (re)seen Paris?

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Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.


  1. “Despite his lack of interest in the arcana of 19th-century Anti-Masonry, George was an editorial master of concision and concinnity.”

    What book on the arcana of 19th-century Anti-Masonry are we talking about? If your book is about a place in upstate New York that might be the right place, but that’s not a subject of your book, is it?

    (I don’t know that I’ll read Bettyville, though from your description it sounds like it would be worth reading.)

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