Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Friday, June 29, 2007

Keeping The House is more rewarding than it seems

In Ellen Baker's debut novel,Keeping the House,we are first introduced to Dolly Magnuson,who has just moved to the town of Pine Rapids,Wisconsin in 1950 with her husband of two years,Byron. Dolly is determined to be the kind of perfect wife seen in appliance magazine ads and plunges herself into taking care of the bungalow home that doesn't feel too homey,planning the evening meal(she uses a yearly calendar to keep track of things)and joining the local Ladies' Aid in making a quilt.

It's there at the Ladies' Aid that Dolly hears talk of the Mickelson family,who used to own the beautiful old house across the way from the self appointed know it all on Mickelson family history,Cecilla Fryt. Most of the Mickelson family's troubles are blamed on Wilma,a talented pianist in the making who married John Mickelson in 1896 and felt pressured to give up her dreams of music. Wilma's resignation is somewhat offset by her unfulfilled passion for John's younger brother,Gust and then later on by her favoritism towards one of her sons,Chase,who dies in battle during WWI.

Dolly becomes facinated,not only by the legend of the Mickelsons but by their house,which is slowly decaying due to the family's desertion of it a few years ago. Feeling restless and lonely in her routine marriage,Dolly explores the old house and decides to secretly spruce it up,in hopes of convincing Byron to buy it for them. It's a fun project at first but when one of the Mickelson clan shows up,troubled WWII vet JJ,Dolly not only gets more info about what really happened that made the family leave Pine Rapids but finds herself questioning her life choices and being attracted to the one person who seems to truly listen to her and care about her inner self.

Reading this book,I was put in mind of one of those excellant Julianne Moore films with a 1950's background and multiple characters. Like The Hours,Keeping The House follows several of the characters thru out time,like Wilma,her son Harry who finds love late in life and nearly loses it,and granddaughter Elissa,whose choice of true love stirs up some startling family secrets. Baker gives her characters a full roundness of being,adding depth when neccessary and not falling into the trap of propping up cardboard cutouts to be easily defined as InstaStereotypes of The Bored Housewife,The Nosy Neighbor,The Dull Husband,etc.

Baker also gamely captures the mindset of the fifties as well as the allures and pitfalls of small town life. Some of her most moving chapters are focused on the wartime memories of characters like JJ,who lost part of one leg in combat and John Jr.,who is reluctant to have his daughter pine away for a soldier after seeing how badly affected his mother was when his brother Chase died.

You might be inclined to think that KTH is an old fashioned tear jerker but it's far from that. This is a strong and tender novel about how folks deal with the life they have before them and how it should or shouldn't be dealt with.

Ellen Baker is not just a great writer,she's an independant bookseller at J.W. Beecroft Books & Coffee in Superior,WI,another wonderful reason to make me smile. Her first book party for KTH will be there on July 10th(the official release date for KTH) and you can check her website for a signing near you. There's also a MySpace page for leading lady Dolly Magnuson herself.

Keeping The House is a wonderful story in an old school setting with an appealing modern but not ill fitting aspect that gives the characters a great framework to showcase their expectations upon. If you're in the market for a book club suggestion or just need a truly absorbing read, KTM is a must have for your home library.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful blog you have!!! I am amazed at the amount of work you apparently put into your posts. I LOVE IT!!!
I wanted to tell you that this is my first time visiting your blog and I came across is as I was looking for other people who had reviewed Ellen Baker's KEEPING THE HOUSE.
I have reviewed it, interviewed Ellen for my blog as well as have a guest post by Ellen. I hope you will come over and check them out at Planet Books. http://planetbooks.wordpress.com
I will need to set aside a chunk of time to go through your extensive site.
A new fan!

lady t said...

Thanks,Karen-I'm always glad to make a new friend(and a fan as well!). I will definitely check out your Ellen Baker coverage-KTH is a wonderful book,isn't it?-and take some time to look thru your site,too:)