Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to Be An American Housewife

Once again, BlogHer is paying me to review a novel.  Though I received the book for free, my opinions are my own and untainted by any untoward interference from anyone..... just in case you were wondering. 

TBG got a kick out of seeing the spine of Margaret Dilloway's debut novel.  "Really?  You're reading a how to book at this late date?"  Not exactly, but kinda sorta.

Margaret Dilloway drops us into middle America circa 1950.  Like Shoko, Charlie's Japanese war bride, we are up that creek without a paddle, except for our guidebook, How to Be an American Housewife. But, like Shoko, I am strong and resilient and I know what I must do, so I soldier on and plow through the most melancholy first half of a novel that I have ever read.


The most interesting character was Shoko's father, and I didn't get enough of him to satiate my curiosity.  How did he manage to get over Japan's defeat?  How was he able to support his daughter's choices when those choices would separate them forever and fray their family ties?  Shoko uses him as a counter-point to her emotional turmoil.  Because I admired him I was able to begin to try to perhaps imagine a scenario where I was able to admire her, as well.  I failed.

Not that I didn't feel for her.  Oh, no, Ms. Dilloway made sure that each racist slight, each small degradation, each exclusion hit me as hard as it did Shoko.  Shoko was stoic; I was reeling.  This is a marvelous trick for an author.  As a reader, my heart hurt.

But, I'd promised BlogHer to finish the damn thing, so finish it I did.  And then there was Sue, the long-suffering daughter. All of a sudden I loved the book again.  She and her daughter sounded just like Little Cuter and I.  Sensitive to the inter-personal struggles in a conversation, Helena, the daughter
smiled at me and put her hand on my arm.  "You okay, Mom?"
I was back in the hospital with my girl by my side, recognizing before I did that my heart was aching and, with the touch of her fingers, bringing me back to the warmth of her love.  Margaret Dilloway really liked her mother.  I could tell.

Risks were taken for all the right reasons and regret was relegated to another chapter.  The plot was totally predictable in the way that a good tv show is predictable - there's no risk of being disappointed and I liked the characters enough to watch them change around the edges as they worked their way to the end I had foreseen 100 pages before.

There were some beautiful, small moments that I treasured.
"But do you like it?" Toshiro pressed. 
I nodded.
"Then that is all that matters."  He sipped his tea. 
I realized Toshiro was correct.
After 40 some years of self-doubt, of criticism, of never feeling that she had measured up, that moment of peace within herself was triumphant.  How to Be an American Housewife isn't always perfect, but sometimes it comes very very close.


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