Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, by Lorna Landvik, was recommended to me several years ago, but in spite of the catchy title, I wasn't that interested in reading about angry housewives (though the bon bons sounded tempting). When I finally sat down to read it last week, I was delighted to find that my expectations were unfounded, and instead of being a book about women trying to escape marriage and family, it actually celebrated both. And better yet, it's done within the context of a book club, and who doesn't love a good book club?! Angry Housewives follows five women over the course of thirty years who find support (and even redemption in one instance) through the friendships formed in their neighborhood book club. Each chapter focuses on a different woman and they are all so well drawn that you can't help but love them all, even when they drive you crazy. In other words, they're normal people!

Now, before I get too much further, I do have to add this disclaimer. There is a smattering of bad language and sex talk. The language is pretty mild at the beginning, but as they move into the 80's and 90's, there is more and more frequent use of the f-word. The sex talk is more prevalent, but it's not particularly sensual. In fact, some of it is downright disturbing. But it's still such that it's definitely for an adult audience and there are even a lot of my adult friends whom I wouldn't recommend it to.

Having said that, let's explore the aspects that made it delightful.

False expectation #1: The housewives are angry because their husbands are jerks.

I fully expected to find the men in this book to be flat characters who were full of chauvenism and other unforgiveable flaws. Instead, most of the men were actually very loveable and supportive of their wives. There are a couple of exceptions (one of whom coins the phrase that consitutes this book's tongue-in-cheek title), but even those characters are more complicated and believable than I expected. Granted, the men get little coverage since the story isn't about them, but overall they are good husbands and fathers and their wives appreciate them.

False expectation #2: The housewives are angry because they are tied down with marriage and children.

Landvik realistically portrays some of the frustration inherent in raising children, but she doesn't dwell on it. Instead of trying to escape, these women find their greatest joys in life from their families. While that includes some heartache (one woman struggles with a gay son, another's daughter spends a period of time estranged from her), it is clear that nothing else in life is more important and more fulfilling than these relationships. As their children grow, most of them pursue careers outside the home, but even that is portrayed more as a sidenote to their real work (that of raising families).

False expectation #3: Trying to follow five characters over the course of 30 years means someone or something is going to get left out.

Landvik's characters were surprisingly well developed. She alternates each chapter focusing on a different woman's life, and is able to stay consistent enough in their narratives to keep them believable. While there are some basic differences that define them (one is a mature widow who was never able to have children, another is a social activist, still another is a quiet victim of abuse who struggles standing up for herself, etc), she resists sticking with stereotypes and instead rounds out her characters with other unexpected traits that deepen their hold on the reader. Spanning 30 years does add some challenges. I felt like the problems they faced (some of which were very serious) were at times wrapped up a little too easily because we needed to hurry on to the next stage. But the passage of time was also one of the things that made the book so interesting. It was imbued with flavor from different periods in our social history, and the impact they had on the developing characters ranged from the superficial to the profound.

While I will probably not read this book again due to some of the more adult material, it was still a worthwhile read. Especially as a young mother, it helped freshen my perspective that these days that can sometimes feel long will soon become years that pass all too quickly.


  1. Sounds very interesting. What's interesting to me is that neighborhoods aren't often like this any more. You don't often see book clubs, block parties, or barbecues in each other's yards. Most of the time, people keep to themselves. How much richer would our lives be if we knew our neighbors better? I tell myself this as I look at the houses around me and put off going over to say hello.

  2. Why is it that we don't have block parties etc.? We had some really fun people in our ward some years ago. We would get together and have a wild night of playing 'The Totally Insane Card Game' and eating chips and salsa. Then we invited another couple over and were sort of accused of having elite and maybe snobby little parties. We couldn't see anything remotely elite about this, but both couples moved away and now we mostly watch 'Friends' and blog.

    I have no answers. But it is a good question.

  3. Caren, thanks for the book review. I am wondering if there is a way, at the beginning of the post, that you could identify yourselves. I keep thinking I am reading Jenny, and was so surprised to find Jenny making a comment at the bottom.
    Sailor, Who was that? I don't remember having anyone over but the Rob's and Dwayne's. Who was it that accused us of the elite thing? Who did we have over after Rob moved? I guess I tend to forget that bad part, I do remember the hilarity and fun we had. It was a blast. Oh how we laughed. Fun times.
    How sad is society today. It is sad that a TV series named Friends now substitutes for real friends. I miss those "totally insane" and fun days. We laughed for 2-3 hours straight until our cheeks hurt.

  4. Yeah, I thought it was unusual that these women were all neighbors for 30+ years with no reason to move for jobs, health, family, etc. But this would be our parents' generation, and I think that's a little more common for them. My parents have moved several times but always stayed in the same town. And when I look at in-laws or others in that generation, they seem to be a lot more stable that way too.

    I'm generally not a very social neighbor anyway, and most of my social life takes place in church. But this year I've missed a lot of the activities and social events going on, and now being busy with a new baby I've felt completely out of it. Last week I decided to check out a friend's blog and through her blog I found blogs for a dozen or more other neighbors and friends. I realized that's how everyone has been able to stay caught up in other's lives! It is sad that blogging is replacing real friendships, but at the same time, I'm glad to have at least some way to feel connected!

  5. But I must add, while blogging is a great way to stay in touch with friends and casual acquaintances, it's pretty sad if that's the only way to know what's going on in my spouse's life! (And sadly, it happens!) Some relationships just really need to take place face-to-face.

  6. Sounds like a good book. I'm sorry that someone found your little group "elite." But I have to admit that I'm a little in that situation. I was part of a close group of neighborhood/ward friends who did quite a bit together. After about a year, another couple moved into the area. And my husband received a new calling. Since then, we've been more or less nudged out of the group or rather just not invited to anything anymore. But I think this has more to do with the fact that every ward has "cliques" per se, or at least I've noticed this in Utah wards.
    I do feel blessed that I know all of my surrounding neighbors fairly well. However, most of them are 75+ years!

  7. In our neighborhood, there are parties, but they are always the kind where you go buy stuff. It's frustrating to me that the only way to be social is to be selling something. I've been invited to everything from Pampered Chef to Jewelry to purses to stamps to books. I just want someone to have a party for fun and not to get free stuff because I spent fifty bucks. I started a neighborhood book club for this very reason. (That and because the church one I was in charge of got the axe.) And sadly, more people show up to buy stuff than to talk about books. Which is why this blog is so great, and why I started a blog of my own that is expressly for discussing things like books, movies, and silly topics.

  8. That's sad about your church book club! I love ours because it's a small group, and no one outside the group cares what we read. When they first started there was a lot of reading LDS authors and non-fiction, like people were afraid to read something interesting. So I didn't join for the first couple of years until they started getting comfortable and branching out. Since we all have the same standards, everything is still tasteful. But we don't have to worry about someone who thinks all fiction is inappropriate ruining our fun!

    And I agree about the shopping parties, so I rarely go. But the funny thing is, if I find one has been held that I didn't get invited to (even if I wouldn't have gone anyway) then it stings a little bit. Going back to that clique/elite group thing. So apparently I'm just impossible to please!

  9. I don't often stay up late at night reading a book because I have kids who get up super early, but this book kept me up two nights in a row. I'm feeling a little bleary-eyed as I write this.

    I loved this book. I loved how she developed the characters and how wrapped up I felt in their lives. The first night I was up late, I dreamt about Merit all night long and the Angry Housewives beating the tar out of her husband. I couldn't wait to get back to the book the next morning.

    What I loved was the friendships these women had with each other. I was kind of jealous of the bonds these women forged and wished I had the same thing. I had such good roommates in college and we were close in a way that I haven't had in a friend since then, but I lay awake last night wondering what if we had all met when we were raising our kids. Would we be able to have friendships like we did as roommates? Could we be friends like the women on Freesia Court?

    I realized two things when reading: #1 I need to find a book group and #2 I miss having really close friends. These things have to change.