Ellis, a professional poker player and author (Eating the Cheshire Cat), turns domesticity on its head in her darkly funny 12-story collection, featuring hausfraus in various stages of unraveling. These wives are not like the perfect 1970s-mom Carol Brady, the blue-collar Roseanne Conner, or even the tightly wound Claire Dunphy. Ellis immediately sets the tone in “What I Do All Day,” about a modern Stepford Wife—she is “lucky enough to have a drawer just for glitter”—with bite. In the rest of the collection, women become involved in increasingly hostile epistolary e-fights over wainscoting in a shared hallway (“The Wainscoting War”), speak in codes that require translation (“Southern Lady Code”), and take their book club to a whole new level (“Hello! Welcome to Book Club”). One wife finds a fiendish way to contend with a domineering mother-in-law and the son she raised (“Dead Doormen”); another finds that having a significant following on social media doesn’t save her from her book sponsor’s ruthlessness in actually getting the thing written (“My Book Is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax”). Ellis hits the satirical bull’s-eye with a deliciously dry, smart voice that will have readers flipping the pages in delight. Agent: Susanna Einstein, Einstein Literary Management. (Jan.)
Ellis’s 12 short stories about women under pressure are archly, acerbically, even surreally hilarious. By extracting elements from the southern gothic tradition, Shirley Jackson, and Margaret Atwood, Ellis has forged her own molten, mind-twisting storytelling mode. Her pacing is swift and eviscerating, and her characters’ rage and hunger for revenge are off the charts… Perfectly crafted… A breath-halting balance of slashing absurdist humor and rich and authentic emotional sensitivity… With monstrous children and cats, hopeless husbands, and covertly dangerous women, Ellis takes down the entire housewife concept with a sniper’s precision. These are delectably revved up, marauding, sometimes macabre tales of ruined marriages, illness, infertility, crass commercialism (literary product placement), desperation, ghosts, even murder, featuring women of shrewd calculation, secret sorrows, and deep sympathy."
— Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Hilarious and moving, terrifying and shockingly strange, every page of American Housewife is driven by the fierce and fearless voice of Helen Ellis. Mixing together reality TV, book clubs, the Upper East Side and classic whodunits, these characters never forget to dab Chanel No. 5 behind their ears before murdering their neighbors. So sit back and enjoy the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and let these ‘ladies who lunch’ tell you their stories of infidelity and infertility, of decorators and doormen, of love and failure and friendship and hope. On the outside, these housewives look like Jackie O. But on the inside they are all burning with passion and rage. This book is feminism with teeth and a southern drawl. Red lipstick and a baseball bat. And I could not stop reading and laughing and cheering each of these women over the finish line.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
“If your best friend was brilliant and very funny and given to sudden profound or outrageous pronouncements and nevertheless cared about every detail of the world and found meaning there, positive and negative, and poured her heart into telling you stories, and if she had an instinct for breakdowns, how we are all given to them relentlessly in ways that are both hilarious and sympathetic, it might be something like reading this wonderful, charged, lyrical, intelligent book of short stories.”
—Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories
“The stories in American Housewife, by the lovely Helen Ellis, are outrageous and irreverent—code for totally relevant and utterly winning. Buy this book!”
—Hannah Pittard, author of Reunion and The Fates Will Find Their Way
“I finished American Housewife three days ago, and I'm still in withdrawal. I want to throw a cocktail party for Helen Ellis's beautiful, demented, touching heroines. I'd ply them with gin and Jell-O salad, admire their brooches, and force them to give up their deepest secrets. In other words, I wish I could read this exhilarating book all over again.”
— Eliza Kennedy, author of I Take You
Professional poker player and author (Eating the Cheshire Cat) Ellis's latest is a collection of delightful short stories that turn the stereotypical housewife ideal on its head. Each one centers on the trials and tribulations of a particular housewife, whether she is hunting for yard sale treasures on reality television, conversing with the dead in her haunted luxury apartment, or literally battling neighbors over the decor of a hallway common area. Many of the characters are writers launching comebacks, or those coming to peace with their lack of writing while embracing a twist on domesticity. VERDICT Each story is lively and active. The hilarity of each premise will pull in readers, and the twists will keep them glued to the pages. Anyone who has ever contemplated having a drawer specifically for glitter or has felt awkwardly settled into the domestic life will appreciate this not-to-be-missed collection.—Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH
The wives in these guffaw-out-loud short stories by novelist Ellis (The Turning Book: What Curiosity Kills, 2010, etc.) are a wonderfully wacky crew. At first glance, the women in this pointedly peculiar collection may seem like familiar characters—jealous wives, inconsiderate neighbors, procrastinating writers—yet, often, it's not long before they and their stories build from a chug to a mad hurtle, take a sharp turn in an unexpected direction, and careen completely and crazily off the rails. In "The Wainscoting War," two neighbors correspond about their shared vestibule, and over the course of a handful of emails, build from "Thank you for the welcome gift basket you left outside our apartment door" to a high-stakes face-off in a common hallway at high noon. In "The Fitter," one of the book's sweeter, gentler stories, the wife of a small-town Georgia man with a "pilgrimage-worthy" gift for fitting women with the perfect bra—"part good old boy, part miracle worker"—reluctantly releases him to the woman she suspects will replace her after she succumbs to the illness that has rid her of her own "body meant for tight sweaters." In "Dead Doormen," a woman who initially appears to be a perfectly devoted housewife, catering to her husband's needs in the vast Manhattan prewar penthouse apartment left to him by his mother, slowly comes into focus as something significantly more sinister. The 12 stories here cheekily tackle subjects ranging from neighborhood book clubs to reality TV shows, and while a few of them feel, sadly, like filler, breaking up the madcap momentum, on the whole, they are deliciously dark and deliriously deranged. This amusingly offbeat collection treats us to an unusual array of characters as if it were offering up a plate of clever canapes. Maybe just don't try to devour them all at once.