Day 979: Literary Wives! American Housewife: Stories

Cover for American HousewifeToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Ariel of One Little Library
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kate of Kate Rae Davis
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

My Review

Strange short stories seem to be one of the newest literary fads, and Helen Ellis’s certainly qualify. Not only are many of the stories in this selection strange, but her approach to a few of them is unusual, those stories consisting only of lists. Her heroines are frequently demented.

“What I Do All Day” is one of those list stories, recounting the events of the daily life of a housewife with too little to do. “The Wainscotting War” is about a feud between co-op owners over the decor of a shared hallway. This story features a woman who becomes unhinged by this disagreement, losing her job and her husband because of her behavior.

My favorite story is “Dumpster Diving with the Stars,” in which an author agrees to compete on a reality show. I liked this one because it sends up so-called reality television while having mostly likable characters. But some of the other stories just go too far over the top for me, like the one about the novel sponsored by Tampax, although I get the underlying message about what it takes to get some writers to write. Of course, one of Ellis’s main tools is exaggeration, and sometimes it is funny.

What does the book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

It’s hard to generalize about marriage from these stories as the husbands are mostly in the background. Only in “Dead Doormen,” about how a wife takes over from her mother-in-law in caring for her husband’s position on the condo board, is their relationship at all stressed, and in this case, her husband is a privileged slob whom women control. Sometimes the husband is referred to affectionately, but often ironically, as when one narrator’s husband gives her a warm kiss every morning, but that’s the only one she ever gets. Although some of these wives work, most of them seem to be idle or to wait on their husbands hand and foot. I don’t get the feeling that Ellis’s housewife is representative of the women I know. On the other hand, maybe the term “housewife” is used ironically, as it is an old-fashioned word. Most of these stories seem to be steeped in irony and exaggeration.

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8 thoughts on “Day 979: Literary Wives! American Housewife: Stories

  1. Naomi October 3, 2016 / 8:00 am

    I think one of the reasons I found it hard to write about this book is because of the exaggeration – it made the book funny, of course, but I couldn’t always be sure of what meaningful message she was trying to convey. Maybe she was just having some fun! Emily’s review helped me out a lot!
    My favourite stories were the ones that are more like lists. I got a kick out of them!

    • whatmeread October 3, 2016 / 8:01 am

      I don’t usually have trouble with exaggeration, but I think I had the same problem you did. Emily did see a lot more than we did. I haven’t gotten to your review yet, but I’m reading it now.

  2. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors October 3, 2016 / 11:51 am

    I think overall the Reality Show story was my “favorite” as well. I just didn’t find much to connect with, as I guess you didn’t either. I’ll read Naomi’s, then Emily’s.

    • whatmeread October 3, 2016 / 11:53 am

      Emily found a lot to talk about, but the rest of us didn’t. Well, you found a lot to talk about, but I think you didn’t find much to say about the “wives” angle.

  3. Kate Rae Davis October 7, 2016 / 12:37 am

    This insight was helpful for me: “the husbands are mostly in the background.” I wonder if that’s exactly part of what helps us generalize from these stories — that the state of being a wife can impact our understanding of ourselves and can change the way the world relates to us, even without the person who makes us a wife being particularly present. I feel the world relates to me differently post-marriage, even (sometimes *especially*) when my husband isn’t around.

    I started seminary before I was married, and men would mostly talk to me. Which is good, since I was the only woman in my program. Once I was married, most men stopped speaking with me unless my husband was around, like I was somehow socially (or even intellectually) off limits. The state of being a wife changed the way the world related to me, even though my husband was in the background.

    • whatmeread October 7, 2016 / 1:57 pm

      That’s interesting. I never had that experience when I got married.

  4. Emily J. October 7, 2016 / 6:22 am

    You are spot on with this one: strange short stories that are exaggerated. It is almost like a contemporary version of Flannery O’Connor’s work.

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