First, a frank confession. Despite being keen as mustard to read this, I knew very little about this book when I was given it, other than Margaret Atwood was a fan, and everyone on Twitter seemed wild for it. I think what I imagined was some sort of Revolutionary Road-type story, and embarrassingly I didn’t actually realise that it’s a collection of short stories. (“I did” said my other half smugly. “I read the back while you were doing your teeth.”) I don’t often read short stories, which is odd really, because I quite like writing them, and I always enjoy them, so a New Year’s resolution really ought to be to start investing more into them!
American Housewife is a collection of funny, dark and compelling tales, both over the top, yet oddly relatable, and occasionally subtly intertwined, with characters and themes such as the mysterious Mrs Giles Everett Preston III and taxidermy, making reappearances. From the viciously funny The Wainscoting War, told entirely in email exchanges is one of my favourites, followed closely by Dead Doormen, and My Novel is Brought To You by the Good People at Tampax, a story about the sinister corporate sponsorship of a novel, which contains possibly one of the best lines in the book:
“If Tampax can land Miss Cyrus as their spokesperson, they will be extremely pleased. Tampax has no problem with twerking. Miss Cyrus, however, has a shelf life for wearing Caucasian-colored plastic hot pants. Therefore, Tampax would appreciate it if you would flesh out the character Miss Cyrus wishes to play…For example: she studies in the nude and she sleeps in the nude. She sleepwalks. And make her sporty. She can swim, play tennis, ride a bicycle and go horseback riding. All of which can be done comfortably at any time of the month thanks to Tampax.”
The stories intertwine completely mundane settings and scenarios with utterly outrageous denouements, such as the gruesome escalation of an email exchange over wainscoting or the sinister ulterior motives of a book club. Many however also contain moments of genuine and unexpected poignancy, such as, oddly, Dumpster Diving With The Stars and The Fitter.
I read this viciously funny collection within about a day, and have revisited several since – definitely to be enjoyed more than once.
American Housewife by Helen Ellis is published 14th January by Scribner