American Housewife: Stories – Helen Ellis
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.
Review: These twelve darkly humorous stories focus on a segment of society that is often overlooked: the housewife. The women in these tales are Stepford Wives on the outside, but inside, they have a few secrets. Between planning parties and cooking dinner, they kill their neighbors and kidnap beauty pageant contestants.
“Sugar, nobody’s perfect. And when ladies try to be perfect, their periods stop.” – American Housewife
These are the stories that stayed in my mind:
“What I Do All Day” is a list-style flash fiction piece about what housewives do. I’m not a housewife, but I laughed out loud at this story. It’s cleverly written. Actually, all the flash fiction in this collection is well-written. This one is just my favorite.
“I cry because I don’t have the upper-arm strength to flatiron my hair.” – American Housewife
In “Dumpster Diving with the Stars,” regular people team up with celebrities on a dumpster-diving reality show. Who can find the best treasures? This story is too long and got a bit boring, but it also made me laugh. I’m a reality TV junkie, so the satire resonated with me.
Two wealthy neighbors exchange a series of heated emails in “The Wainscoting War.” One neighbor wants to redecorate the shared hallway between their apartments. The other doesn’t. The argument quickly turns deadly.
“The only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting.” – American Housewife
In “The Fitter,” a woman marries a man with an unusual talent. He can find the perfect bra for any woman just by looking at her. His wife jealously guards him from the herd of other women who want to snatch him away from her.
“Just because you can fit into something tight doesn't mean that you belong in it.” – American Housewife
“My Novel is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax” features an author who didn’t read the fine print of her book contract. I really hope books never have corporate sponsors. This story is not a thing that needs to happen in the real world.
Humor and satire books are hard to review because they don’t work for everyone. If your sense of humor jives with this collection, you’ll probably love it. If it doesn’t, you’ll probably be left baffled. Most of the stories are very short. The characters aren’t hugely complicated, and there isn’t much action. It’s really all about the humor and social commentary.
Even though the plots are way over-the-top, I like what the collection says about housewives. Being a housewife is difficult. It’s stressful. There’s a whole housewife subculture that many people don’t even realize exists. These stories are relatable because there’s truth under all the ridiculousness.
I like that so many of the characters are readers or writers. I felt like I got more out of the stories because I’m a rabid reader. I understood a lot of the references and found them hilarious.
“YA is about angst. Will I get that boy to like me? Will I lose the weight? Will I turn into a vampire if he just gives me a hickey? I’m an orphan! I’m a mind reader! I’m biracial! I’m gay! When I get out of high school, I’ll move to New York City, where I’ll find others like me, and then I’ll be happy and I will have it all: a career, a family, good teeth, and takeout Chinese.” – American Housewife
For me, this collection works. The author is a talented writer, and I can appreciate the humor. I do see how the stories would be hit-or-miss for other readers, though.