“Hilarious” and “Demented” are the words which immediately come to mind when I think about Helen Ellis’s collection of stories, American Housewife. All the tiny obsessions that make up the everyday life of a housewife are illustrated in exaggerated fashion. The extremes in these stories are blackly funny and insightful, satiric and fun.
The Wainscoting War is a good example of the black humor Ellis uses so well. It’s also a really great illustration of the way women of a certain class fight, and what they fight over. The satire is fantastic in the last story in the collection, a tale of what it is to be a writer in the 21st century as well as about Big Brother corporations–My Novel is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax.
Like all good humor, Ellis’s stories contain very sharp and pointed commentary about upper-middle-class suburban womanhood, the women that spring to mind when you think “American Housewife” nowadays. Wealthy ladies who lunch, who go to book clubs and spend a lot of time planning dinner parties. Those attributes get shaken up a little here. I loved the Patricia Highsmith or Shirley Jackson-esque darkness and insight of Dead Doormen, about a housewife in a deluxe apartment whose life revolves around housekeeping. The equally dark and cutting Hello! Welcome to Book Club starts off fun, and then quickly spirals downward as the delightfully twisted monologue of a book club hostess introducing a newbie goes on.
Also included are a couple little gems of lists, like Take It From Cats and What I Do All Day. Ellis is brilliant at one-liners, every one is a masterpiece. I also think this is one of the very best book covers I’ve seen in a long time. Perfectly suited to the material.