Reviews > Published on January 12th, 2016

Bookshots: 'American Housewife' by Helen Ellis

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


American Housewife

Who wrote it?

This is the truth about being a modern woman compressed into a hundred pages of prose.

Helen Ellis, author and competitive poker player (she won enough in one tournament to pay off her grad school loans). Her first book, Eating the Cheshire Cat, came out to raves in 2000. She then fell prey to the Curse of the Second Book and hit a dry spell. American Housewife represents her triumphant return to print.

Plot in a Box:

American Housewives suffering from various degrees of insanity do insane and extremely funny things.

Invent a new title for this book:

Cath was Wrong and America Can Do Satire 

Read this if you like:

Humour as sharp as a well honed fish filleting knife.

Meet the book’s lead:

She’s the woman you see in the supermarket whose trolley contains foie gras, kale, three different types of rice and a box of live ammunition.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

The ghost of Joan Rivers.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Honey, I have lived here for years.

What was your favorite sentence?

All of them.

Oh fine.

At your age , your fertility is like a pocket watch swaddled in cotton, drawn up in a velvet pouch and tucked inside a Pringles can.

The Verdict:

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am none of these things:

  • a joiner
  • a fan girl
  • a gusher

But it turns out that given the right book, I am all of these things. Okay I am still not a joiner or a fan girl, but I am now a gusher, because I am going to gush to you about how much I loved this book.

Because I did. I loved it.

I came to it with zero expectations, given that Ellis’ first book came out when I was in the throes of early parenthood and running a software company and about as likely to read a whole book as I was to take up riding zebras.

Okay I didn’t come to it with zero expectations. I’ve read a lot of short stories about the female condition and my expectations about these are now set at somewhere between Here are the reasons why my marriage sucks and Here are the reasons why my parents suck. I admit it, this was my mindset when I swiped to the first page. Then I read the first sentence of the first story which goes ‘Inspired by Beyonce, I stallion-walk to the toaster’ and my eyebrows climbed into my hairline for the whole of the glorious hour it took me to read the entire collection.

These housewives don’t complain about their mothers or reminisce about their college days or reflect on the love lives of their female acquaintances. These housewives engage in spirals of murderous violence. They hold book clubs where the real currency is a healthy womb and supply of eggs. They fight with the actor John Lithgow for supremacy in a reality TV show. They write pulp fiction for a well known supplier of female sanitary products.

This is the female condition in all of its absurd glory. This is the world of madness all women, at some level, must inhabit if they are to negotiate adult life intact. This is the truth about being a modern woman compressed into a hundred pages of prose. This is about finding and marrying the man who knows how to pick the perfect bra and knowing when it’s time to let him go. Who could want for more than that?

About the author

Cath Murphy is Review Editor at and cohost of the Unprintable podcast. Together with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also talks about slightly naughty stuff at the Domestic Hell blog and podcast.

Three words to describe Cath: mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four.

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