The Dark and Hilarious Stories of Helen Ellis’ “American Housewife”
The short stories of Helen Ellis’ upcoming collection, American Housewife: Storiesare all wildly improbable and instantly relatable. In each story, Ellis invites readers into a unique setting, like a sinister book club of traded favors, a child star fleeing the pageant circuit for a new life with a new family (“Drop the ma’am and the sassy walk to blend in in New York,” she’s advised by the woman who connects ex-pageant queens with childless couples seeking pretty white daughters), or a haunted–but terribly clean–Manhattan co-op. Descriptions of Southern manners and Manhattan evenings are both pitch-perfect, which is probably what makes the murder, kidnapping and revenge all seem perfectly realistic.
My favorite tells the story of a has-been writer and a Playboy bunny on a dumpster diving reality show, and my least favorite about a housewarming gift basket that leads to murder. But even my least favorite short was still perfectly relatable, because in other stories the narrators snarked about the e-epistolary format.
Themes reappear through the separate short stories. Love. Marriage. The correct times to applaud. Murder. The quiet desperation of domestic life, and the desperation of being a mildly talented writer. Child beauty pageants. Being a grown-ass lady. Each story stands alone, but the complete collection creates an image of a dark underworld behind perfect hair and perfect smiles.