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

This Is Not About Kittens (Okay, Maybe A Little)

I may not always know what to say, but I continue to daydream and trust that words will come. Writing makes me look closer at things. It leads me to ponder things more deeply and to consider them from different perspectives.

Sometimes when I’m stuck on what to write, I tell the person closest to me about it. Giving voice to the obstacle sometimes helps me to work through it. My husband K in an effort to be supportive offers ideas, which usually consist of recent experiences that he and I had together. His latest suggestion involved kittens.

We recently went to look at a house going up for sale. It was a major fixer-upper but had great character. As we explored the big backyard, a strange noise floated up above the wind in the trees and rung in my ears. I froze, listening hard, and there the sound came again. Kittens!

I followed the high-pitched mewing to a stone fountain broken into pieces and IMG_0566overturned in a bed of monkey grass. There I found him – a tiny gray kitten, the giver-away of the hiding spot. I picked him up and snuggled him close to me as K scooped up his three siblings. They were so small and sweet yet fierce with their sharp claws in permanent protrusion from their soft padded kitten feet.

When we first ventured into the backyard, K and I saw a couple of adult cats watching us cautiously before jumping the fence and taking off. One of those was likely the mama of these kittens. Their place of refuge was a good one, complete with multiple hiding spots and cover from sun and rain. They ran to each other and huddled together as we placed them back where we found them, confident that their mom would return.

I thought about the kittens all that night and the next day. I tried not to worry, trusting that the mama cat would do her best because that’s the nature of things. Still, K and I brought over some kitten food. We quietly crept into the yard, anticipating listening for the sounds of mewing, but the stone fountain and monkey grass were empty. We searched the yard and called for the kittens but to no avail. Mama cat did her job and moved them to a new place, a safer place. We set out the food anyway just in case and silently wished the kittens well.

I appreciated K’s suggestion to write about this experience, but I decided against it. What was the moral of the story? What was the point? Yet I continued to think about it, to replay the events in my head, and as I did, the seeds of those thoughts began to grow and spark questions in my mind.

Those questions sparked conversations between K and I – philosophical conversations, and from there I have continued to ponder and question a plethora of beliefs and ideas, reconsidering my perspective on certain things I have thought to be true, all because I found some stray kittens and thought about the experience more deeply than usual.

I realized that finding those kittens and reflecting on the story gave me insight. I did not know it at the time, but it was an experience that for a few minutes caused me to be present and thankful.  From that experience I was able to appreciate the small moments that make me see and feel something outside my normal realm and routine. It distracted me from myself and presented something new and wonderful. From there I could reflect on writing, on what I wanted to say.

This is why I don’t simply give up when I don’t know what to say when I write.  Writing has made me more conscientious of my world. I realized that I don’t write so much as to make an impact as to influence. I write because the act influences me. It makes me a better person, and it has given me a better and happier life.