Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Keeping the House

Keeping the House: A NovelTitle: Keeping the House
Author: Ellen Baker
Pages: 528
Published: 2008 Random House Trade Paperback
My Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I first eyed Keeping the House a couple of months ago and nearly bought it simply because I loved the cover: I could almost smell the home cooking and hear the squeaky clean kitchen floors.  I managed to resist the temptation to buy it, however, until I recently saw it again and couldn't convince myself out of it.  The great cover, the Fannie Flagg endorsement on the front, the interesting synopsis on the back, and the bits of advice straight out of the 1940s and 1950s sprinkled throughout the book were more than enough to convince me that this book needed to be on my shelf.

"The bride who wants to do her full job will plan from the start to create the kind of home her husband wants, and to do it with no more assistance than he willingly offers." 
--'Making Marriage Work' --Ladies' Home Journal, June 1950

So what's it about?  It moves back and forth in time, from the prologue in 1896 to the bulk of the novel in modern 1950, and trips back to WWI era (1917-1918) and WWII, (which ending in 1945 puts it in the not-so-distant past for Dolly Magnuson, our main character.)  Dolly is striving to be the perfect housewife, while at the same time trying to figure out the story behind the beautiful house on the hill that sits abandoned.  I loved reading about all these time periods, and how we are all really more connected than we might think.  I enjoyed the mystery of the Mickelson family, and the author's portrayal of the struggle for a healthy, happy marriage.  There was enough drama to really keep the story moving, but not so much that it felt implausible.

The Meal Planner's Creed
My family's enjoyment of food is my responsibility; therefore--I will increase their pleasure by planning for variety, for flavorful dishes, for attractive color, for appetizing combinations.
--The Modern Family Cook Book, 1942

Keeping the House isn't perfect; there were a few times when certain characters where introduced too thoroughly and too late in the story to really be of interest.  Those parts seemed to try to expand on the effect of war on the individual, and felt out of place in the overall picture.  For the most part, though, the characters were realistic and the story was interesting.  The pace was quick enough to keep you hooked, but slow enough to let you think about what you're reading, making it--for me--an ideal summer read.  And like I said, the bits of advice from Ladies' Home Journal and other publications in the '40s and '50s were priceless.

"A house, exactly like a dog, must be loved before it will show the best side of its nature."
--Popular Home Decoration, 1940

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