Book Review: American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

“The only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting.” 

A Manhattan housewife lures in and befriends the doormen at her building, but her motive is not what you think. A woman provides a “relocation” service for pageant girls. A writer stands her ground while competing on a reality TV show. From book club secrets to life advice from cats, this collection of twelve stories is darkly comedic yet also steeped in truth.

AmericanHousewifeThe book satirizes the dark side of the feminine mind and the interplay of catty and manipulative relationships. It also emphasizes the strength and intelligence of the female characters as well, ringing the bell of truth at times. I found myself smiling and shaking my head, relating to them and laughing in part at the silliness of myself. I chuckled aloud a few times but then felt slightly disturbed at other times. The characters are witty, sassy, and sinister.

The title led me to think that all of the stories are related to the lives of women who do not work, but that is not the case. Some are housewives, some are writers, and some are undefined, creating a wider range of topics and themes. Also, not all of the stories are plot based. Some of them are written as simple advice or commentary, and I think the piece called Take It From Cats is the best.

However, I much prefer the plot driven stories. My favorites are Dumpster Diving with the Stars, Dead Doormen, and My Novel Is Brought to You By the Good People at Tampax. I loved the incessant and ludicrous procrastination of the character in the last story!

The stories are strange and creative and all very different.  It is a great collection that has something for everyone.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

“Every two hours Michael Collins had gone out of radio contact for forty-eight minutes when the moon stood between himself and Earth, and during those minutes he was the most alone person in the history of people. Helen still liked to think about that. That had always been her dream: space, not a location within it, just space.”

WanderersHelen, Sergei, and Yoshi are accomplished astronauts chosen by private company Prime Space to embark on the first manned mission to Mars. As part of the initial testing and preparation, they must undergo a 17-month simulation of the expedition, during which the astronauts will face a series of challenges, but none are more challenging than those they face in their own minds. Meanwhile the loved ones closest to the astronauts struggle with their own challenges of facing the separation and figuring out who they are and who they want to be.

The publishers marketed this book as a cross between The Martian and Station Eleven. Readers who crave more of the former will be sorely disappointed. This book has little humor, minimal hard science and engineering, and no sense of urgency. Instead is has the slow and steady pace of introspection. It is much more a character study than a plot driven story.

Despite the slow pace, the writing kept me engaged. The characters were as much a mystery to me as they were to themselves, and it was interesting to experience them unfolding and eventually reaching a deeper sense of understanding, which made for a satisfying ending.

A major concept in the book is the idea that we have multiple versions of ourselves and that we consciously choose to show one face or another to in different situations. The astronauts struggle to put only their most capable and controlled selves forward as they are under constant observation and exist in very tight quarters. Their family on the outside tries to be who they think they are supposed to be, which increases their struggle to be honest and true to themselves. It’s a fascinating concept to me and one to which I relate.

The story presents an interesting juxtaposition of characters that prepare for the new exploration of a planet while simultaneously embarking on new explorations of who they are at their current points in life and in relation to others. Not much happens, but it is a lovely, imaginative, and clever book about the journey of human introspection and relationships.

4 out of 5 stars