George Hodgman spent his entire life as an outside observer, first as a closeted gay kid in 1970s Missouri and later as an editor at Vanity Fair in New York City, and it’s clear he’s more comfortable meditating on others’ lives than his own. “The thing about being a watcher is this,” he writes. “You are never really a part of things.” But when Hodgman moves back home to aid his ailing mother, he can’t help but “see the cost of long-lasting silences” and what it’s done to her happiness and her relationships with others—most notably his father and himself.
Though the memoir is initially a bit frustrating—early signs of emotional engagement or revealing self-analysis get quickly dismantled by Barbra Streisand jokes and Golden Girls references—halfway through the book, Hodgman opens up. Whether his withholding is a device or simply the author’s nature is unclear, but when he ultimately gives up more of himself and his inner workings, you’re happy for both his sake and your own. He’s never mawkish or self-pitying, though, and his rotating troupe of small-town kooks—though again, often drawn with zinger-laden descriptions rather than full character studies—pulls you along until the memoir’s emotional richness kicks in. B+