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Smart, Funny Housewives Rule These Novels

by Marc Acito
Jun 27, 2008 (All Things Considered)

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'We Are All Fine Here' 'Heartburn' Housewives Marc Acito

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"Three Books ..." is a new series in which we invite writers to recommend three great reads on a single theme.

I'm sure there was a mix-up in the cosmic paperwork: I'm a gay guy with a trendy haircut, a ready wit and the same waist size I had in junior high. How did I end up trapped in Deepest Suburbia?

As a result, I'm a huge fan of books about desperate housewives. Reading stories about smart, funny women who are miscast in their lives is like having a marathon phone call with your best girlfriend — assuming your best girlfriend is hilarious, brilliant and completely honest.

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'Mrs. Miniver'

Mrs. Miniver, by Jan Struther, paperback, 162 pages

In contrast to the friend who screws up is the friend who's got it all together. For that, you must turn to Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struthers. Forget the melodramatic MGM weepie with Greer Garson. This slyly comic story of a well-bred Englishwoman on the eve of World War II fascinates me with such pressing concerns as how do you find a charwoman on short notice, and what do you say at a shooting party?

But Mrs. Miniver's contentment with her privileged life is tempered by her wry observations, like how she wishes she could just invite the interesting half of the couples she knows to dinner, then invite the boring ones another night that she'll end up canceling. It's like Mrs. Dalloway for dummies.

'We Are All Fine Here'

We Are All Fine Here, by Mary Guterson, paperback, 192 pages

A perfect example is the compulsively readable We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson, in which a married woman finds herself pregnant after a liaison with her old boyfriend in the bathroom at a friend's wedding. You know those friends who are constantly screwing up, but you secretly enjoy it because it makes you feel better about your own life? That's what reading this book is like.

We Are All Fine Here delivers Hitchcockian suspense without anyone being chased by a crop duster or rappelling off Abe Lincoln's nose. From page one, questions abound: Who is the baby's father? Who will the heroine end up with? How much longer can she hide her morning sickness? These questions and more will be answered as the stomach turns ...


Heartburn, by Nora Ephron, paperback, 192 pages

The best literary friend of all, however, is the narrator of Nora Ephron's Heartburn, who is the perfect synthesis of the first two — a mild screw-up who still has her head screwed on straight. Long before Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck, she wanted to wring that of her philandering husband. Because the novel is reportedly based on Ephron's own calamitous marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein, it's difficult to imagine anyone other than the acerbic author herself in the role, even after Meryl Streep played her in the movie.

This book proves the adage that "Writing well is the best revenge." The heroine of Heartburn writes cookbooks — an apt profession given Ephron's totally edible prose. It's a delicious book that you alternately want to gorge on and savor, the kind of hilariously wise and well-observed novel that makes readers wish the author were their best friend — and makes other writers contemplate suicide.

While I lead my own life of not-so-quiet desperation, I depend on these fictional friends they way I do my real ones: for comfort, laughs and inspiration. I take solace in knowing that there are others in the same boat. Particularly if that boat is dry-docked in deepest suburbia.

Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.

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