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.