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“A LIVELY STORY AS DELECTABLE AS A FIVE-POUND BOX OF CHOCOLATES . . . A thoroughly engaging chronicle of friendship and the substantive place it holds in women’s lives.”
Author of Leaving Eden
“It is impossible not to get caught up in the lives of the book group members. . . . Landvik’s gift lies in bringing these familiar women to life with insight and humor.”
—The Denver Post
“A GUILTY PLEASURE . . . THIS LIGHT, SNAPPY READ MAY BE HER BEST YET.”
—Midwest Living magazine
“Honesty, humor, and profound emotion . . . are the hallmarks of the book. Told alternately from each woman’s perspective, and ranging in time from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, Landvik accurately captures the thinking, the culture, and the feeling of each decade. . . . [She] treats her characters, whose stories drive the novel, with the same warmth and love with which they regard each other. . . . For anyone who has connected with another person on any emotional level, this appealing novel provides the special comfort of recognition.”
“[A] delicious novel . . . If you love . . . Fannie Flagg, Lee Smith, Adriana Trigiani—you will love this. It’s a buddy book, a story of women sharing friendship, love, loss, and laughter.”
—Millbrook Round Table (NY)
“Readers might feel a twinge of sadness and loss as they turn the last page of Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons—finishing this book is like leaving five dear friends.”
“Witty and wise . . . Landvik’s ladies endure the best and worst of times together (and recommend some great reads along the way).”
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Fuller Brush salesman had the unfortunate task of trying to sell his wares to the women of Freesia Court during the fifth day of a March cold snap.
"They were like caged animals," he complained later to his district manager. "I felt like any minute they were going to turn on me."
"Brushes?" Faith Owens had said when he offered up his bright smile and sales pitch on her icy front doorstep. "I'm sorry, but I've got a little more than brushes to worry about right now. Like wondering if spring is ever going to get here. Because I truly believed it might really be coming when boom--here it is, twenty below zero with a wind-chill factor that would bring Nanook of the North to his knees."
"Thank you for your time," said the salesman, picking up his case. "You have a pleasant day, now."
"And what exactly is a wind-chill factor anyway?"
"Faith," called her husband, Wade, from the living room. "Faith, don't be rude, honey."
"Well what is it?" she asked, slamming the door with her hip. "What exactly is a wind-chill factor?"
"This is Minnesota," said Wade, ignoring her question because he wasn't quite sure of the answer. "What do you expect?"
"Oh, I don't know--maybe a little damn relief?"
"Might I remind you," said Wade, "how you cried with delight seeing your first snowfall?"
"I cried with delight the first time I had sex with you, but that doesn't mean I want it nonstop."
"You're telling me," said Wade with a wistful sigh.
"Ha, ha, ha," said Faith,surveying her neat and trim husband as he brushed his crew cut with his palm, a gesture he always made after what he thought was a joke.
It was no surprise to Faith that her husband had less trouble adapting to the frozen north. Hell, he was flying out of it all the time. Right before Christmas, Wade had been transferred to Minneapolis from Dallas, although to Faith, it may as well have been Siberia.
That very morning he was leaving for a three-day trip with a layover in warm and sunny Los Angeles, and as she stomped upstairs to finish his packing, anger seethed through Faith like steam through their loud and clanking radiators--Los Angeles! In just a few hours Wade could feasibly be lying poolside as some flirtatious Nordic stewardess (why did every Minnesota stewardess she'd seen have to look like Miss Sweden?) rubbed suntan lotion on his shoulders, while she, Faith, rubbed ointment onto the chapped little bottom of their son, Beau.
She pitched a rolled-up ball of socks into Wade's suitcase with the velocity of a teenage show-off trying to knock down a pyramid of bottles at a carnival booth. There had been a time when she actually enjoyed packing for her husband--when she'd fold his shirts into neat rectangles, slipping a sheet of tissue paper between them so they wouldn't wrinkle; when she'd tuck a love note inside a pair of boxer shorts or dab her perfume on the neckline of an undershirt--but routine had long ago tarnished that thrill.
Now Faith had an urge to pack a different sort of surprise--perhaps a used diaper from the bathroom pail that reeked of ammonia, or maybe a sprinkling of itching powder.
She smiled then, remembering one of her more innocent teenage pranks. She and Melinda Carmody had ordered itching powder from the back pages of True Confessions magazine and, sneaking into the classroom during lunch hour, sprinkled it on their algebra teacher's cardigan sweater, draped over the back of his chair. When tyrannical Mr. Melscher (who rewarded wrong answers with a sarcastic "Think again, Einstein") put the sweater on, Faith and Melinda held their breaths in anticipation. Although the man's shirt seemed to have blocked much of the powder's itching powers, he did tug at his collar and squirm a bit, giving the girls far more entertainment than they had trying to figure out if x equaled y.
Closing the suitcase, Faith sighed, realizing how far removed she was from things like best friends and practical jokes and giggle fits.
How far away I am from everything fun, she thought--from rides in convertibles with boys who drove with one hand on the wheel and the other one on her; from parties where couples necked on the porches of fraternity houses; from gently turning down, on the same night, two boys who wanted her to wear their pins.
Who are you kidding? Faith thought, sitting heavily on the bed. You're starting to believe your own press. It astounded her sometimes, the ease with which she assimilated into her present life: how she could get huffy about a visit from a Fuller Brush man or about packing her husband's suitcase as if she were some normal housewife. As if she weren't Primrose Reynolds' daughter.
She shuddered. It was as if her memories had a geography all their own. In the most recent ones she was on safe and firm ground and was the Faith she wanted and tried hard to be; further back she was the neglected little girl who seemed to be ground zero for lice infestations, the wild teenager who could just as easily have gone to prison as to college. In these memories, she struggled through swamps and quicksand.
Faith's life had been one of constant upheaval, and if she had learned anything, it was not only how to adapt to it but how to go beyond it. But maybe it was to be the great irony of her life that while she survived years of chaos, a few months as a lonely housewife in the frostbitten north had the power to finally do her in.
"Stupid godforsaken frozen tundra," she muttered, refusing to trespass in the dangerous territory of her past. As she dragged Wade's suitcase off the bed, she looked out the window laced with frost to see the Fuller Brush man take a tumble on the slippery walkway of her neighbor's house.
ACROSS THE STREET from the Owens residence, in the big colonial that in Faith's estimation needed a little TLC, Audrey Forrest lay in rumpled sheets, staring at the ceiling. Her five-year-old was bullying her three-year-old, but it was her belief that children settled their differences faster when adults didn't intervene. Besides, she didn't want to get out of bed.
She stretched her arms to the ceiling, admiring the delicacy of her fingers and wrists. At the moment she was on a diet that called for entirely too many grapefruits and boiled eggs, and until she saw progress on a scale, she would admire those few things, such as her wrists and fingers, that were in no need of size reduction.
Thinking about her stupid diet, her good, lazy-cat mood faded--why was Paul so adamant that she lose twenty pounds anyway?
"It'll help you feel better about yourself," her husband had said the other day, handing her the diet paperback he'd bought on his lunch break downtown.
"I feel fine about myself," said Audrey, piling her thick dark hair on top of her head and posing like a pinup model. She liked her curvy body, ample seat, and full breasts. "And fine about my body." She leaned over, wrapping her arms around Paul's neck. "You usually feel fine about my body." She pressed herself to him, nibbling his earlobe, but what normally drove him crazy now seemed to alarm him, for he pushed her aside as if she were transmitting a germ he did not want to catch.
"Paul," she said, unable to believe he didn't want to ravish her right there on the kitchen floor, "what do you expect? I'm Italian." In truth, she was mostly Dutch and German, but she felt far more affinity toward the Italian grandfather who spiced up her genetic mix.
"No," said her husband, looking at her with the glasses he thought made him look like a more experienced attorney than he was. "Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren are Italian." He pulled the sports section out of the paper and snapped it open. "You're just fat."
"Paul," said Audrey, her voice wounded.
"Oh, baby, I was just making a little joke."
"Well, it wasn't funny."
"I know. I'm sorry. I do think you're beautiful, Aude. It's just that, geez"--he swatted the newspaper he was reading--"every one of these models in here looks like that damned Sticky."
Audrey had to laugh. "Twiggy, honey. Her name's Twiggy."
"Well, compared to her, Miss America--which you could be, babe--looks hefty."
He certainly hadn't been thinking of where her weight fell in the current fashion curve that morning, when he'd pulled her to him, pushing up the fabric of her nightgown until it was a lacy roll around her waist. Audrey had been in the middle of a dream about her grandfather's backyard garden, the place of some of her happiest childhood memories, but she was always welcoming of Paul's advances and kissed him hungrily. After he climaxed, he jumped out of bed, his arms held up to the ceiling, and said, "Thank you, God, for letting me marry a sex maniac!"
"There are worse things to be a maniac about, wouldn't you say, big boy?"
Paul didn't turn around to acknowledge her little Mae West impersonation, but skipped off to the bathroom to shower.
"That's mine! Give it back!"
A crash accompanied her three-year-old's plea, and then there was a moment of silence before both her children began screaming. Wrapping her robe around her, Audrey got out of bed, ready to seize the day--or the scruff of her children's necks.
A SUNDAY-SCHOOL TEACHER had once told Merit Iverson that God had held her face in his hands and sculpted it himself. It was true, she had the face of an angel, and had anyone been observing her that morning, it would appear also true that she had the smoking habit of a pool hall hustler. She lit her third cigarette of the hour, dragging on it as if it were oxygen and she were tubercular. If moving to Minneapolis from Iowa had been the first subversive act of her life, smoking was the second. Her father, a Lutheran minister (from whom she hid her habit), thought smoking--at least for women--a vice as well as a mark of low moral character. But waiting for her bus one day, Merit saw a billboard of a woman lighting up, a sophisticated, elegant woman who looked as if she had the world on a string, something Merit decidedly did not. She bought a pack of Kools that day.
Her husband, Eric, didn't mind if she smoked; he thought a woman smoking an occasional cigarette was glamorous. But she knew he'd mind how much she smoked. Even she was surprised how quickly a full pack deflated into an empty, crumpled one, but if cigarettes calmed her nerves, what was the harm?
"Are you sure it won't hurt the baby?" she had asked Eric, because if anything would make her give up her beloved habit, it was her beloved baby, growing inside her.
Her husband had given her one of his bemused, dismissive looks, which made her feel like a cute but pesky kindergartner, and said, "I'm a doctor, aren't I?" (Somehow he seemed to think Merit needed to be reminded of this fact--as if she hadn't typed millions of invoices in a drafty accounting office to help put him through med school.) "I'm a doctor and I smoke--would I do anything to endanger my health?"
"But the Surgeon General--"
"The Surgeon General's talking to heavy smokers. Moderation, Merit. Things done in moderation are fine."
A wreath of smoke hovered over Merit as she began to wipe down the counter. Barbra Streisand belted out "People" on the radio, and she added a little dance step as she attacked the smudge marks on the toaster. She listened to a radio station in whose demographics she did not fit (she knew far more songs by Perry Como than the Rolling Stones), and the waltz step she did in time to the music preceded the Twist or the Pony by centuries.
When she was finally convinced all crumbs and fingerprints had been banished (her husband liked his home as sterile as the hospital he worked in), she sat down at the kitchen table and leaned over to smell the roses Eric had brought home last night. Her pregnancy had been good for a number of bouquets and fruit baskets, one of the latter from the senior Dr. and Mrs. Iverson, who were wintering in Florida. They were thrilled by the news; they'd been pestering Eric and Merit ever since they were married to produce a grandchild. "And while you're at it," her father-in-law would add with a wink, "make sure it's a boy." Sons who became doctors was an Iverson tradition, started five generations earlier.
Merit stubbed out the inch that remained of her cigarette and rubbed her stomach.
"Please be a boy, little baby," she whispered. "It would make everything so much easier for everybody."
FREESIA COURT was a short dead-end street tucked on a parcel of land a stone's throw north of Minnehaha Creek. Nearly all the houses had been built in the 1920s and '30s, and it was such a pretty neighborhood that once in, hardly anyone left. Like many others in Minneapolis, Freesia Court was a cathedral street, so named because the leafy branches of trees on one side of the boulevard met those on the other side, giving those driving under them the sensation of being inside an airy green cathedral. It was only recently, when the original owners had grown too old for the upkeep of their spacious homes, that they had become available for sale. Now more than half of the retirees had moved out, and the sidewalks were littered with tricycles and wagons and chalk drawings belonging to the children of the young couples who'd replaced them. Today, however, the only evidence of children in this frigid winterscape were abandoned sleds and scrawny, weather-beaten snowmen who, with their missing stone eyes and broken and sagging twig arms, looked like Civil War veterans returned home after battle.
Faith's stucco Tudor (she still could hardly believe she lived in such a nice house) was at the end of the cul-de-sac, and the south side of her yard gradually eased into a hill that ran down to the creek basin. She had splendid views from her kitchen window, hundreds of trees and the creek itself, but it was not this view that was making Faith teary-eyed; it was that of her husband, Wade, backing out of the driveway. Seeing her standing at the window, he gave a jaunty salute, which she returned with a limp little wave.
At least the twins were sleeping, thank God. In January, just after their first birthday, they had taught themselves to walk, giving themselves a gift Faith often wanted to take back to the returns department. If they weren't contained in a playpen or crib or high chairs, Faith was chasing them through the house, plucking them off stair landings and couch backs and other dangerous perches that were so attractive to them.
1. READING GROUP QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. During the sixties and seventies, the Angry Housewives smoked cigarettes and threw back highballs—even while pregnant—without knowledge of the harm it could do. If they could have glimpsed their futures then, what do you think would have surprised them most about their future selves? What is one thing you know now that you would have really appreciated being aware of ten years ago?
2. Why do you think groups like AHEB—women who live near each other, raise children together, and bond over books together—persist even in a climate of working moms and in a culture that is flooded with other types of media?
3. Discuss Faith’s letters to her deceased mother. What kind of catharsis do they provide Faith, and how do the tone and nature of the letters change as the years go by?
4. Audrey gets a kick out of introducing Kari to strangers as a recently released convict. Discuss the women’s jokes, nicknames, and embarrassing moments—how does humor work to solidify friendship?
5. Kari faces a critical decision when Mary Jo forbids her from telling Anders that the baby is his grandchild. Would you be able to keep such a secret? For which character is this secret most constructive; for which is it most destructive?
6. The women suggest that Slip thinks that by wearing revealing clothes Audrey perpetuates her role as a sex object and “subverts [her] real self.” Audrey replies that she takes no one’s opinion into account when she dresses—she simply likes it. How much does physical appearance burden or bless the women in AHEB? Do you think it is easy to make generalizations regarding persons who dress provocatively?
7. Faith becomes a guardian figure after staying up with the gun waiting for Eric Iverson’s return, and keeping watch over Slip in the hospital bed, prepared to confront the Grim Reaper. What do you think are her conscious or subconscious motivations for being ever watchful?
8. Audrey has a talent for sensing upcoming events. In what ways do her capabilities influence how she deals with her family? Does it differ from how they affect her friendships? How much do you believe in psychic phenomena? Would being endowed with such a gift help or hinder one’s decisions?
9. Merit is ashamed that a part of her believes her mother’s statement that her brave Aunt Gaylene--happily unmarried, fulfilled with friends and books--was “living half a life.” What sides of Merit’s character produce these contradictory feelings? How do you think the other women of AHEB would respond to this opinion, and why?
10. At the AHEB meeting for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the women toast their favorite and most influential teachers. In what other ways does the act of teaching influence the relationships in this novel?
11. Slip and Audrey allow a conflict between their children to seriously harm their friendship for a short time. If you ever had the desire to openly criticize a friend because of the way he or she raised a child, would you do so? How does Landvik’s portrayal of differing parenting techniques and the children they produce function as social commentary within the novel?
12. What do you think caused Faith to (almost absent-mindedly) bring Audrey to Trilby? How did confronting Beau’s sexuality help her have the strength to confront the reality of her own past?
13. Merit attributes her quiet acts of rebellion--trash rolled up furtively in her hair, choosing only banned books for AHEB meetings--to her maintenance of sanity during her years of marriage. What do you make of these coping methods? How do they compare to the methods of the other women in AHEB? Discuss your own strategies for staying lucid and balanced when confronted with situations that can be unbearable.
14. Kari and Mary Jo both question the timing and content of their admission to Julia after it’s too late. Do you think it would have been wiser to have Julia grow up knowing the truth, or perhaps never knowing at all? How do you feel about Kari’s impromptu decision to come clean in front of Mary Jo and without her prior knowledge? Was Julia right to be so upset?
15. How do you feel about the later inclusion of Grant as a member of AHEB? Did you think the inclusion of a male affected their particular group dynamic? What is valuable about inviting men to participate in women’s dialogue?
16. Merit eventually finds Paradise, literally and figuratively. Do you believe that good things come to people who wait?
17. At the peace march, Fred states that, “Only by trying to help someone else save their life could I save my own.” What do you make of this statement considering the horrors he experienced during the war? Do other characters in the novel embody or contradict this notion? Are certain characters better described as saviors than saved?
18. How are midwestern values portrayed in this book? In what ways might the book have differed if it had been set in the northeast or the south?
19. Slip is described throughout the book as the strongest--physically--of the Angry Housewives, in addition to her dynamic will and stalwart convictions. What emotions are stirred when someone who is perceived as invincible suddenly becomes critically ill? How does she continue to display conviction and energy? Do you think she will prevail?
20. Audrey says she believes in luck and God acting in tandem. What events in her life do you think contributed to this belief? How much weight do you give this sentiment regarding your own life? Do you think people tend to attribute life’s painful events more to luck or to God? What about the joyous events?
21. Did you like the format of the book? How did giving every character the opportunity to voice their thoughts support the all-for-one and one-for-all theme of the book and the club itself?
22. This book covers a lot of ground, both personal and political. What do you think the most important lesson these women learn over thirty years is? Which characters were most ripe for change with the political and cultural tide? Whose story did you think most embodied the emergence of women as a growing force outside the home?
23. In order to attain a greater understanding of herself, Faith utilizes therapy, learns from her friendships and culls inspiration from books. How do these three supplement each other as means of self discovery? Which books and authors have inspired you most through the years?
24. What did you think of Merit’s idea to unite mothers around the world to stop war and halt violence? Were you surprised this notion came from her?
25. Slip tells Merit that re-dubbing their book club Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons would be taking their husbands’ words and “giving them and their chauvinism the finger.” What other subversive techniques do the women display for giving chauvinism the finger? Do you feel it’s an apt name for the club and all it turns out to be?
26. Discuss Kari’s notion that her heart was able to put itself back together after the loss of Bjorn much like a lizard that can regenerate a tail. Do you think this sort of regeneration would have ever been possible without the arrival of Julia?
27. Marjorie McMahon has a plethora of nicknames: Slip, Warrior Bear, the Big Kahuna; and she is called everything from a leprechaun to a member of a “bloodstained group of nuts.” What in her character lends itself so well to these various labels? Which do you think is the most accurate?
28. What do you think about Merit’s final interaction with Eric Iverson? Was the slap beneath her or just what he deserved?
29. How does AHEB compare to your book club? Are there any ideas in the novel, like themes for meetings, which you’d like to incorporate?
30. Which character was your favorite? Was she or he the one you identified most with?
31. A number of the characters in the book harbor secrets. What does secret-keeping do to characters like Faith and Fred, who fear their actual secrets as opposed to Kari or Beau who fear the reactions of others?
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted April 27, 2011
This was a great novel to start our book club so many years ago. Not only did it show us how such a club could bring disparate women with different backgrounds, ages, and values together in a heart-wrenching, lovely story, it also gave us ideas for how to conduct our meetings. Most of us were merely acquaintances when we started, and now we are a group of friends who have begun exchanging presents at our December meeting. The ladies in the novel choose to have meals that relate to whatever novel they are reading, and we've continued to carry on this tradition in our club as well, encouraging us to try some new and yummy recipes. This novel tells of five different women who each have their own story to share as they bond together through four decades of change. This is an American history novel, a woman's novel, and an inspirational novel. I highly recommend it. To read more of my book reviews, please visit my blog at bookclubpicks dot blogspot dot com.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2012
Posted August 13, 2013
A lovely and realistic story about a group of friends over the course of 30 years. I felt, with each page, I grew with the characters. To be honest, the changing perspectives (mid chapter in many cases) was a bit jarring, but, upon reflection, it was like many people telling the same story. Of course, someone's going to jump in the middle and carry on her (or his) piece of it in the individual perspective.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 25, 2013
Posted February 11, 2013
Posted February 1, 2013
I really connected with the characters. I felt like I was part of the book club and enjoyed the progression through the years. A friend of mine read the book and recommended it to me. I am so glad I read it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 17, 2012
Posted October 20, 2012
Posted October 18, 2012
Posted October 18, 2012
Posted October 17, 2012
"Well, she's the one who saved you, isn't she? Or are you a different kit?" I ask, confused.+Geckoleaf (there were three kits that day, so l'm sorry if l mixed you up.)
0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 20, 2012
Posted September 24, 2012
Posted August 21, 2012
This is the story of five women who form a book club, following the women over decades of friendship.
This story is character-driven, with full, well-fleshed out characters. But that is not to say that the plot plays second-fiddle. This story is equally plot and character driven, and it covers the gamut. Childhood heartbreak, unhappy marriages, domestic abuse, substance abuse, the horrors of war, the pain and joys of parenthood. It has it all.
My final word: I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the writing, and some of the stories the characters would tell. It had both serious moments and humorous moments, allowing you to watch the development of the character's lives over decades. I would recommend this one.
Posted August 6, 2012
Posted August 3, 2012
Posted July 24, 2012
Follow the lives of 5 complicated women. The normal lives they lead are not what they would first appear. Watch them grow and develop into the individuals they become. See a little of yourself in one or more of them. You won't regret reading this one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 6, 2012
My book club read "Angry Wive". We all enjoyed it immensely! The characters were so real that we identified with them. It was really interesting to follow a friendship over decades. We should be so lucky to be together that long!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 18, 2012
Posted November 16, 2011
This book was light and enjoyable to read. You really get to see the characters grow and change throughout time. They make you laugh and cry. I chose it for our bookclub and we all enjoyed it. Each chapter lists the book the ladies chose for their bookclub and we wrote down some of the titles to read in the future. I even threw a dinner party using themes from the book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.