American Housewife, by Helen Ellis - book review: Brilliantly caustic tweets from the American homefront

When they're not openly bloodthirsty, the stories are delightfully ghoulish

Lucy Scholes
Tuesday 19 January 2016 17:20
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“I'm not bored, I'm lying in wait,” reads one of my favourite of the brilliantly caustic tweets from Helen Ellis's American Housewife-linked Twitter account, @WhatIDoAllDay. Ellis's housewives are a far cry from the stereotypically meek and mild homemaker, twiddling her thumbs waiting for the washing machine to finish its spin cycle; nor are they women on the verge of mental breakdowns, they've crossed that particular line a while ago.

Think I'm exaggerating? “The Wainscotting War”, told through a chain of emails between neighbours who share a common hallway in a posh apartment block, sees decorum break down with alarming speed. Messages of thanks for welcoming gift baskets and invitations to pop over for a glass of Chardonnay soon deteriorate into violent acts of vandalism, including the calculated release of a clowder of cats into the common area with the following warning: “I will stop feeding them, but they are hunters. Push your dresser in front of your door, but the cats will get past it. Brace YOURSELF: I trust they will not starve.”

The same deliciously dark and deranged humour shines through in another Upper East Side apartment-set tale in which a wife murders a series of doormen in order to keep her husband in power as president of the building's board. Since “the only thing more unpredictable than a housewife alone in her apartment is a man who loses his job”, as the wife chillingly muses, this is one sure-fire way to avoid arguments over unfair dismissals.

When they're not openly bloodthirsty, the stories are delightfully ghoulish. “Hello! Welcome to Book Club” sees a youthful new recruit unknowingly signing up for more than she bargained for; a personalised laminated bookmark in return for the use of her uterus. Others, meanwhile, are more melancholy affairs, but no less affecting for it. A washed-up genteel lady novelist takes a slot on the TV show “Dumpster Diving with the Stars”, an attempt at reinvigoration on both sides: “I'm a novelty – like a disabled vet or a little person – cast as a new way to breathe new life into an old show.” While in “The Fitter” a dying woman handpicks her husband – an expert bra fitter, and thus highly prized – a new wife.

These stories are interspersed with razor-sharp shorter lessons to live by: 'What I Do All Day“ – ”Inspired by Beyoncé, I stallion-walk to the toaster“.

Demented, dangerous and genuinely refreshing, career girls everywhere should clearly watch out!

Scribner £14.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

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