I first heard of American Housewife by Hellen Ellis thanks to her wonderful UK publicist, Elizabeth Preston. A good friend of mine, Preston kept boasting on this new collection of short stories that will be published in the UK the 14th of January 2016. So, I kindly requested a review copy and Elizabeth, as usual, sent one to me.
American Housewife is a collection of short stories by Helen Ellis. If you normally read my reviews you will have noticed that I read mostly novels, but the few short story collections that I read are usually ace. I still remember the time I read Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an anthology by Sarah Weinmann that collected the best short stories in the true domestic noir genre (USA, 1950’s). So, when I heard the title American Housewife, I thought it would be a contemporary update of those domestic, dark stories that I loved so much. And I was not wrong.
Ellis has written 12 short stories that depict the complexity of white, heterosexual, capitalist domesticity in a mocking and hilarious tone. However, the author does not want to take away from the characters: their problems are real, and they matter to them. Sometimes, they are a life-or-death issue. From tedious domesticity to community renovations that trigger a war with the next-door neighbour, each story is a character on contemporary femininity as defined by the a domestic, capitalist ideal. And, even though this domesticity concerns the whole family unity, Ellis only pays attention to the women in family, normally the Mother figure. Sometimes she also includes a daughter, a friend, or a group of friends – all female – that help paint a more complex picture of the lives of these women. And in case you need further references, the one and only Margaret Atwood chose American Housewife as one of her best books of 2015 for The Guardian:
So, if you are looking for a short story collection to read in 2016, I would wholeheartedly recommend American Housewife. The stories are short, so that you can read one a day – even though I read the book in two sittings – and Ellis’ tone is so irreverent and special that you will feel as if Desperate Housewives is back, this time on book form.