Graceland

Written by Bethan Roberts
Review by Mike Ashworth

From the moment she first holds him, after his twin brother is stillborn, Gladys Presley loves her son ferociously. This is a love which is fully reciprocated by Elvis. The book opens in 1957 at Graceland, where Gladys prevents the chairman of the local draft board from personally delivering his draft induction papers to Elvis. This incident illustrates just how overprotective Gladys was towards Elvis. The story moves between 1937 and 1958 in a series of small, readable chapters which form a counterpoint between his early life-skirting poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi, and the wealth and lifestyle that fame as a pop superstar brings.

In the background, there is another story – of drinking and diet pills, loneliness and loss. When Elvis finds success, he buys Graceland primarily for his mother, although he puts his individual stamp and taste on the house. He hopes the house will give her the security and happiness she so desperately craves. As his success grows, the demands of Hollywood keep him away from his home and parents, and he fails to notice her slow physical deterioration.

The book ends with Gladys Presley’s death from acute hepatitis and severe liver damage, leaving Elvis at the height of his success without his emotional anchor. The relationship between mother and son can be very intense. Despite all the emotional turmoil of Elvis’ early life, there is little depth of explanation on how this affected him. I would have liked to read about the effect on Elvis’ life after his mother’s death, and the effect on his relationship with other women, especially on his marriage. One for Elvis fans.