Read a Hilarious Excerpt from American Housewife

Author Helen Ellis gives us a darkly comedic answer to the question “What do housewives do all day?”

A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line.

Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it’s a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood.


Hello! Welcome to Book Club

 

Hello! Welcome to Book Club. I’m your hostess. My Book Club name is Mary Beth. We all have Book Club names at Book Club.

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Why, dear? Well, really, why not?

The girl who brought you here goes by Delores. The ladies on the red sofa named themselves after TV judges. The ladies on the gray sofa named themselves after the Supremes. The ladies at the buffet table chose Bethany, Marjorie, and Aretha. The elderly lady dozing off in the egg chair calls herself Jane.

If you decide to join us, you can give yourself a Book Club name. We’ll laminate a bookmark with your new name on it. We’ll hole-punch a tassel. You can keep your bookmark in whatever book you’re reading. It doesn’t have to be a Book Club book. But your Book Club name will be a secret name that only we call you. Trust me, you’ll like it. It feels like a dollar bill in your bra.

That’s right, Jane, I’m talking about bras at Book Club again! Look who’s awake!

Jane’s our grande dame. She’s ninety years young. She’s what you call a “real New Yorker.” Meaning: she’s loaded. When it comes to Jane’s money, think of a crazy amount of money, lottery money that you’d like as a windfall. Imagine hundred-dollar bills funneling around you like a tornado of financial freedom. Now double that money. Honestly, triple it. Then add a billion.

It sounds better than handing out towels at Flywheel, doesn’t it, dear?

Yes, I bet it does.

I met Jane at a library lecture by Stephen King. Can you believe this sweet-looking lady who has Chanel suits like some girls have days-of-the-week underpants loves horror novels? She sure does. And that means, from time to time, Book Club loves them too. Personally, I think her love of blood and guts and things that go mwah-ha-ha in the night has to do with her want to invest time and money into things more horrible than what’s happened to her in real life. Jane’s survived two husbands (one had a stroke, and one’s mistress shot him dead in a sex swing) and three children (car accident, ski accident, and one “fell” off the roof of her house).

My dear, please don’t concern yourself, Jane’s fine. They all died years ago. And here’s what nobody tells you: losing a child isn’t the end of the world. Life goes on—and more often than not, goes on quite nicely. Just look at Jane with her feet up on my coffee table. Have you ever seen a woman look more relaxed?

Delores, would you refill Jane’s Scotch and soda, please and thank you!

See there: look at Delores scurry away from the cheese plate. At Book Club, Jane’s waited on hand and foot because Jane is Book Club’s patron of the arts. Jane buys everyone’s Book Club book in hardback, and tickets for us to attend literary events. If you join Book Club, Jane will take on your Book Club expenses too. All you have to do is pick your preferred theater seating.

The ladies on the red sofa like to sit center orchestra for the acoustics. The ladies on the gray sofa migrate to mezzanines so they can whisper. The ladies at the buffet table are claustrophobic, so they ride an aisle like a bobsled. Delores never stops texting, so she sits at the back. It takes a certain kind of woman to sit in the front. Jane and I are that kind of woman: a front-row woman.

A front-row woman is a participant. She never breaks eye contact with the speaker. She laughs when he says something funny, and she makes a funny face when he describes something gross. That day in the front row of Stephen King, Jane and I had so many facial tics the librarians must have thought that strokes were contagious.

How many strokes have you had, Jane?

That many! My God, it’s going to take a bolt of lightning to take you out.

Two bolts and a frying pan to the back of the head? Oh, Jane, you kill me.

She still can’t smile right.

I know it’s not your fault, Bethany! I didn’t say it was your fault!

Bethany is the woman at the buffet table without a plate, to the right of the Caesar salad, rearranging my napkins. She’s Jane’s neurologist. She joined Book Club because Jane invited her to join. She’s forty-something like the rest of us—except for Delores, who’s just out of college—and should have known better than to choose a Book Club name so close to mine. Bethany, Mary Beth. Honestly, the nerve. But tolerating such indiscretions makes me a good hostess.

A good hostess is gracious and doesn’t make a big deal about things like a guest showing up in the same Tory Burch tunic. But a same-tunic disaster is only going to happen once in a blue moon, especially now that I will call you a week before Book Club to make note of your outfit. Book Club names are forever.

Yes, I know you can hear me, Bethany! Would you like to take my husband’s last name as well? Just kidding!

Bethany works sixteen-hour days and is on call all the time and thus has never married. She wants a baby and for whatever reason wants to personally give birth to that baby, and she refuses to have one-night stands or steal hospital sperm samples, so her biological clock is deafening.

Not like yours, dear. 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.

But Bethany’s! Sometimes I walk past the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and am frightened a bomb is about to go off. I imagine my upper torso landing in a gyro cart and the contents of my purse laid out for all to see. Then, I realize it’s not anxiety hounding me; it’s Bethany’s biological clock. It ticks so loud, I’m amazed Mount Sinai isn’t evacuated on a daily basis.

Oh, Bethany, don’t make that face! You know it’s true!

Bethany likes Book Club to read romances and I am talking straight-to-mass-market-paperback Harlequin romance romances. She likes her heroines overpowered.

These days, we’d call what Bethany likes Book Club to read “rape.” But in Bethany’s bodice-rippers, throwing twelve layers of underskirts up over a heroine’s face and plowing her like a cotton field is known as the main character getting her “just deserts.” Honestly, it’s like rape is no worse than having a banana cream pie shoved in your face. At first you’re startled, probably hurt, but then you get a taste of your assaulter’s meringue and realize you want to eat it every damned day.

Book Club is potluck. The ladies on the red sofa don’t eat curry. The ladies on the gray sofa don’t eat shellfish. I hate shredded coconut. Jane’s diabetic, but will eat anything she darned well pleases.

Won’t you, Jane?

Yes ma’am, open-heart surgery, your foot!

Then there’s Bethany, who is lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, vegan, and has irritable bowel syndrome, which is all code for anorexic. She’s a garnish girl. So, throw a radish rose on the edge of whatever you bring and she’ll feast on that. Honestly, watch her tonight. She’ll suck that celery stick like a Whistle Pop.

I am always in charge of the menu. So I’ll call you before our next meeting and help you decide what to bring. I have a chart. So, for example, next to my name this month it says: Tory Burch hedgehog tunic and bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.

No, it’s not a spreadsheet. It’s something more akin to our mothers’ PTA phone trees. You’re too young to remember phone trees.

Oh, you’ve heard of them? Well, aren’t you an elephant-never-forgets.

Not elephant as in fat, dear—I’ll bet you’ve never been on a diet. You can probably have as many bacon-wrapped water chestnuts as you want and never gain weight. What I meant was elephant as being good at remembering. Come to think of it, dear, along with a lack of fat cells, were you blessed with a lack of Alzheimer’s in your family history?

You were! How nice. And how old are you exactly, twenty-seven?

Twenty-six. Even better. Not like Delores over there with her arm elbow deep in the onion dip. She’s twenty- two and would guess a phone tree is something Matthew Barney glued together for MOMA.

Oh hush, Delores, you know you don’t know what a phone tree is! You don’t know the landline number to this apartment. Don’t you dare scroll, Delores. Use your mem-or-ree. It’s in your head, where you keep your will to live.

Honestly, I swear, I let that girl into Book Club as a favor to her dear departed mother—who along with me was a founding member of Book Club—and I regret it every month. Delores always nominates books that are the first in a trilogy.

Delores’s Book Club choices are YA. YA stands for young adult. Young adult is meant for teenagers the way Seventeen is meant for twelve-year-olds, meaning Delores is too old for it, but she and her Smith sisters cannot get enough. YA is about angst. Will I get that boy to like me? Will I lose the weight? Will I turn into a vampire if he just gives me a hickey? I’m an orphan! I’m a mind reader! I’m biracial! I’m gay! When I get out of high school, I’ll move to New York City, where I’ll find others like me, and then I’ll be happy and I will have it all: a career, a family, good teeth, and takeout Chinese.

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Images: Helen Ellis/Twitter

Helen Ellis is the acclaimed author of Eating the Cheshire Cat. She is a poker player who competes on the national tournament circuit. Raised in Alabama, she lives with her husband in New York City. Follow the snarky American Housewife on Twitter at @WhatIDoAllDay.

About HELEN ELLIS

Helen Ellis

Helen Ellis is the acclaimed author of Eating the Cheshire Cat. She is a poker player who competes on the national tournament circuit. Raised in Alabama, she lives with her husband in New York City. Follow the snarky American Housewife on Twitter at @WhatIDoAllDay.

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