Short & Sweet Reviews: American Housewife by Helen Ellis

Short and Sweet Reviews is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I share short, one or two paragraph reviews of books I’ve recently read.

Title American Housewife
Author Helen Ellis
Published January 12th, 2016 by Doubleday
Pages 208 Pages
Intended Target Audience Adult
Genre & Keywords Short Stories,
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased, Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Meet the women of American Housewife. They wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies from the oven.

Taking us from a haunted pre-war Manhattan apartment building to the unique initiation ritual of a book club, these twelve delightfully demented stories are a refreshing and wicked answer to the question: “What do housewives do all day?”

Chuck Palahniuk meets Margaret Atwood in American Housewife by Helen Ellis, an irreverent, subversive, macabre anthology of standalone short stories that feature the titular figure – the housewife – as readers have never seen her before. As is the case with many collections of short stories or essays, American Housewife’s greatest difficulty is with consistency. Some entries are to commended for their brilliant commentary, creativity and countercultural concepts. “The Wainscotting War” (The story of an interior decorating dispute that turns deadly), “My Novel Is Brought To You By…” (The story of a Tampax-sponsored novelist whose employers have a unique way of motivating their artist) and “Dumpster Diving With The Stars” (A story that cleverly skewers the familiar formula and artifice of reality television) are all particular highlights. Other stories, however, like “What I Do All Day”, “Southern Lady Code” and “How To Be A Grown-Ass Lady” are not quite as successful. These entries feel incomplete and unfinished, the barest beginnings of an idea that were never given the opportunity to completely develop. There is also a troubling homogeneity to Ellis’ tales that eventually lends a certain air of monotony to the collection, despite the creative and often surprising twists each ultimately takes. Each protagonist is (presumably) white, straight, and affluent. Their problems are those of book clubs, co-op boards, beauty pageants and bra fittings, and speak to a very specific experience that does not allow for diverse or inclusive representation. Despite the book’s limited subject matter, however, with acerbic wit, satirical humour and a keen appreciation for the absurd, Helen Ellis’ latest is a fun, unforgettable romp that offers a depraved, diverting, if a little one-dimensional, exploration of what it means to be a housewife, and a woman, in America.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!