Published by Doubleday on January 12, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line.
Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it's cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it's a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood.
I picked up a galley of this book because there seems to be a lot of buzz about it, and I can’t resist a collection of short stories. Especially when they’re as deliciously snarky as this was! I appreciate how Helen Ellis doesn’t try too hard with the social commentary in these stories. They are so well-grounded in reality, a light hand is all that’s really needed; Ellis respects that.
“All we marrieds have a marriage chuckle. A marriage chuckle is a fake laugh you bring out when your spouse does something dumb that you have to pretend is charming.”
“I’m forty-five. Maybe it’s not too late to find something else that I’m good at.”
“Yes, mommies can be bullies.”
“When neighbors get uncomfortable, they make anonymous calls. Anonymous means they don’t like what you’ve done, but won’t say it to your face.”
“Hello! Welcome to Book Club” was probably my favorite—what a hoot! “Dumpster Diving with the Stars” was a lot of fun, too; it’s written from the perspective of an author (with only one published book) who’s on a reality show. Then there’s “How To Be a Patron of the Arts,” which I didn’t like at all at first. But I started thinking of all the elderly rich ladies I’ve met who support the arts in my area—and they’re wonderful!—but whose enthusiasm can feel kind of…over the top. By the end of the story, something clicked. This story ended up touching me, staying with me, and changing my perspective.
Admittedly, the collection as a whole felt a little homogenous. Many of the stories are command-heavy. Others have no dialogue and instead use second person. Which is fine, but there’s a predictability to Ellis’s unique style. But the pieces are short enough, and the collection short enough, that it worked for me. I was racing through these stories, laughing out loud (or gasping!) often.