The Book Beat: Not your grandfather’s housewife

At first glance, it is easy to confuse “American Housewife: Stories” with something a grandmother may have read back in the day. But a lingering gaze at the cover reveals that, yes, the woman in the orange getup and dark glasses who is filing down her nails does, indeed, have her pink hair in curlers and she is sitting on the toilet.

This woman provides insight into the women that are the focus of the short stories in this collection, written by Helen Ellis, author of “Eating the Cheshire Cat.” These women are everything their husbands dream of: perfect hostesses, perfect mothers, perfect cooks and perfect wives.

But underneath all those layers of make-upped perfection are just as many layers of imperfection. It is in those layers of imperfection that readers are treated to the delightfully dark episodes the modern American housewife experiences.

A majority of the stories featured in this collection were previously published in various journals. The author worked directly with the magazine editors who originally published these stories to make this book happen, and the readers reap the benefits.

One of the most enjoyable stories is, undoubtedly, “Dumpster Diving with the Stars.” The story follows a not-so-famous author who leaves her writing and husband behind for a couple of months to appear on a reality show on which celebrities take part in weekly competitions to see who can find the “treasure” in the “trash.” This tale of (mostly) unnamed celebrities is witty, laugh-out-loud funny and even heartfelt. In one scene, Ellis paints a picture so well readers can actually hear John Lithgow’s exclamation of “It’s gorgeous!” in their heads.

“Hello! Welcome to Book Club” and “My Novel is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax” are two more stories not to be missed.

As it goes with most short story collections, some of the stories work better than others. Ellis excels more with her longer installments because she has more time to develop the characters. The shortest installments, often dubbed micro fiction, were not effective and came across as unnecessary filler. Ellis could have removed these few stories and created a new piece, less than 10 pages long, and it would have strengthened the book tremendously.

“American Housewife: Stories” succeeds in providing a few hours’ worth of delightful and entertaining escape from a monotonous daily routine. It gives the reader a reason to question whether or not those rich, ritzy housewives in their New York City penthouses are actually happy. Most importantly, it gives the reader reason to actually consider adding wainscoting to their shared hallway, should their neighbor have suggested it.

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