“Apparently among those who consider their social standing some measure of importance, I am to be admired, for I am one of few Nashvillians who can claim with infallible certainty that a blood relation has lived in this town since its inception. My mother, although a Grove by marriage, never tired of sharing this piece of family trivia at cocktail parties or morning coffees, convinced that it elevated her position far beyond what her birth parents could have guaranteed. And whether she did exaggerate the details in the hopes of impressing her peers, the truth remains that a poor Carolina farmer did pack his bags some two hundred and fifty years ago and set out to cross the Appalachian Mountains, heading west with his young bride determined to claim a few acres of his own and a better life for his family. He probably didn’t have a penny to his name by the time he got to Fort Nashboro begging for a hot meal and a place to sleep, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the Grove family anymore.
Legend has it that when the Chickamauga Indians attacked the Nashville settlement, they killed my ancestral father as he fought to protect his beloved wife. She grabbed the musket from her dead husband’s hands and continued the fight, killing three Indian warriors herself. Then she fell on top of her husband’s cold, bloody body and held him in her arms throughout the night.
Her name was Bezellia Louise, and for generations since, the first girl born to a Grove has been named in her memory. Although most official historians dispute any claims of her heroics, my father donated thousands of dollars to the Nashville Historical Society with the belief that eventually some fresh, young academic would see the past more according to my family’s advantage. But fact or fiction, I believed in her courage and passion and have always been proud to share her name.
Sadly, the Bezellias birthed before me never cared for this designation, preferring a monosyllabic moniker – like Bee, Zee or Zell – to their formal Christian name. My own mother disliked the name so much that for years she refused to let it cross her lips, calling me only sister, a generic substitution that summed up her distaste for my name and her inadequate affection for me. I, on the other hand, always wanted to hear my name in its entirety, never caring what others thought of it.“
I can almost always tell within a few pages of a novel about the “South” whether that particular writer is truly “Southern” or someone who has simply taken a special interest in the culture of the South. As many of my readers know I am a Southern girl born and raised so I take the literature of the South pretty seriously. The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is truly a Southern novel clearly written by a Southern writer with not only a working knowledge of the South but a great historical knowledge of the city of Nashville itself. Coincidentally I myself was born in Nashville ,TN and grew up about 45 minutes outside of Music City. This made Gilmore’s latest work even more special for me as I enjoyed learning about the Nashville of the past beyond it’s well known country music roots. Her coming of age novel of a young girl with a unique name and outlook on the world is a must read. Susan Gregg Gilmore shines in her ability to be able to accurately portray the South in a warmhearted and loving manner while also building a novel that centers around some of the bigger controversies of this unique area of the United States. Her ability to weave the charm of the South, it’s history and a wonderful character into a great novel is really magical. From the first few pages of this book I knew I would be hooked by her writing.
I have to admit I am probably a tougher critic than most when it comes to this genre. I am protective of my home and what it stands for. I tend to able to sift through the stereotypes easily, there are those that are so true…well…we have to admit to them. Those that most outsiders think are true but are not representative of most of the South and then finally those that are downright disrespectful and “poke” fun at the South. To the “non-southerner” I think these often get confused. However Susan Gregg Gilmore shows she knows how to write a wonderful work of Southern Literature with that is both serious and light at heart.
So without further ado…please welcome Susan Gregg Gilmore to Stiletto Storytime: