Helen Bevington was known in her lifetime primarily for her poetry which I’ve never cared for as I found it drab, ordinary, not particularly original.
However, she also wrote a series of memoirs which are top notch especially CHARLIE SMITH’S GIRL, the first volume, which is one of the best books I’ve read in the last four or five years.
Bevington writes in a clear and simple, fresh-faced style like Sherwood Anderson but without Anderson’s bitterness or sense of loss. To her, the past has lessons contained within it. It is a source of knowledge not regret. Poverty is a condition of the time not a permanent scar.
CHARLIE SMITH’S GIRL is about Bevington’s childhood wherein she is shuttled, after her parent’s divorce, between her irresponsible yet charming father and her hard-working, dour mother. Neither is a complete person and Bevington does a fantastic job detailing this. By the end of the book, I knew her parents, what they looked like, how they spoke, how they dressed even….I could picture them in my head.
Bevington has a way of playing out a scene so it visual for the reader and makes it more interesting. Many examples of this but one of the most striking is towards the end of the book where Bevington and her roommates are taught to wrestle by their landlord who fears they may be the victim of burglars and/or rapists.
I also feel that this not a self-indulgent memoir written just as a spillage of random facts about someone’s life, a gesture of narcissism. GIRL reads more like a novel which one could argue it is. It has the same structure of plot, denouement, resolution, character development etc.
And it also contains one of the best closing paragraphs of any book I’ve ever read.
“My mother and my father – one was strong and brave and indomitable, and one withdrew in utter despair. Neither of them ever discovered how to be happy. There must be a third way. I am not sure but I think there must be a third way.”