‘American Housewife’ funny, entertains

Posted February 24, 2016

“American Housewife”
By Helen Ellis


Everyone knows that being female is no easy task and Helen Ellis’s “American Housewife,” gives the reader a snapshot into some of the daily frustrations of womankind.

Ellis’s satirical short story collection explores the lives of rich American housewives, presenting the reader with scenarios so absurd they make it impossible to put the book down.

From the not-so-successful writer who is fighting for her comeback in a reality television show, to an e-mail fight between two neighbors over their common lounge décor, Ellis uses the ridiculous to shed light on the stereotypes and challenges the every day housewife faces.

It could be said that picking up a good humor book is no easy task. When it comes to movies, body language and sounds are sure to trigger at least a chuckle from the audience, but with books, it is a different story. “American Housewife” does what many movies cannot, despite flimsy attempts: it makes you laugh.

You will laugh out loud at the description of the housewife, who struts to the toaster because she was “inspired by Beyoncé.” You will laugh out loud at the incredibly passive-aggressive email exchange in “The Wainscoting War,” and then wonder in disbelief at the story’s tragic ending. You will gasp at surprising endings, feel disgusted towards the staple “trophy wife” expectations and identify with the woman whose life is taken over by Tampax. The bottom line is, Ellis’ short story collection makes its readers feel and interact with the characters in a way that makes you want to keep reading.

Apart from “American Housewife,” Ellis has written and published two novels (“Eating the Chesire Cat” and “The Turning Book: What Curiosity Kills”) and other small fictional works. As well as a writer, she is a poker player and a self-proclaimed housewife.

Ellis was raised in Alabama as a Southern Belle and now lives in New York City’s trendy Upper East Side with her husband. Her previous works also shed light on the “rich girl” stereotype, focusing specifically on American high society and the expectations of women who either climb their way up the social ladder or were born on top.

It is difficult to single out one story that encapsules all the themes Ellis portrays throughout the collection, since all of them differ drastically in terms of plot, characters and narrative style. However, as her previous literary pieces show, Ellis is an expert in exploring the themes of women’s expectations, beauty ideals and the inner obscurities of a misogynistic society through the eyes of the rich housewife.

It is plausible to say, perhaps, that Ellis undertakes a feminist tone in stories like “Dead Doormen,” where the main character is presented as a female that seeks to be perfect in the eyes of her husband, but at the end of the day seeks empowerment, perhaps through unconventional means.

Ellis’s stories are great because they get their point across while entertaining the reader. As her audience, we are aware that we should laugh at the ridiculous situations she presents. Because laughing at them makes us stop to think about the plausibility of the situation, and once we realize that these are the actual lives of women all over the world and let it sink in, we become aware of how ridiculous the male-dominated, paternalistic system is.

The story “How to be a Patron of the Arts,” for instance, gives the reader detailed instructions on how to achieve the goals of the title. However, every instruction ends with a particular way in which the woman should “make love to her husband,” as if the only way to become a patron of the arts would be through your husband’s monetary donations in exchange for sexual favors. After all, is that not what all women are supposed to live for?

Granted, Ellis’ short story collection might not be for everyone. But while we might not find a lot of straight men carrying a copy of “American Housewife,” in their briefcases to read on the way to work, it is still a great read for anyone interested in a Venti cup of entertainment with a shot of feminism.

  • Title: “American Housewife”
  • Author: Helen Ellis
  • Publisher: Doubleday, New York City
  • Availability: Hardcover and eBook
  • Prices: Hardcover $24, eBook $11.99
  • Edition: First
  • Released: Jan. 12, 2016
  • Pages: 185
  • Rating: 41/2 stars out of 5