Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, by Lorna Landvik
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
As my book club selection for August, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I've read Landvik before and enjoyed her books, but I believe this one was my favorite yet. She typically sets her stories in Minnesota, like this one.
Kari, Faith, Slip, Merit, and Audrey are housewives in small-town Minnesota in the 1960s. They live on Freesia Court and start a book club (fairly unusual back then). Through the years, they share their heartaches, secrets, and intimacies in the ways that only women can.
Through 40 years, the Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (a name coined after Merit's abusive husband angrily demanded she stop being in the group) each battle their own personal demons. Faith harbors the secret of her dysfunctional childhood and sense of abandonment and is convinced no one will love her if they know the real her. Audrey loves sex and food and lives largely, although her husband enjoys sex with other women as well as her. Daughter of a straitlaced minister, Merit ends up with a perfect-on-the-outside doctor husband who begins verbally abusing her and soon starts in physically. Slip, the impassioned activist, loves her family just as much as she loves peace and justice and gradually convinces the other women not to accept sexism without a fight. And Kari, the widowed and oldest member of the group, happily becomes a mother but can tell no one where she got her baby.
Beginning in the 1960s when home life was much more traditional, and moving into the 1990s when people began opening up their minds and their lives, the book charts the separate pathways of these close friends. In addition to these fiercely strong, loving women, Landvik includes portraits of several wonderful men--some of which you don't expect at first to be so likable.
As we discussed at our own book group meeting last night, for a story about books, Landvik didn't really let us into the book discussions very much. Each chapter was headed by a book club selection and why it was chosen, but beyond a few mentions in the text, we didn't really get to hear much of what the angry housewives thought or said about it. She could have woven the texts into these women's lives more effectively.
In addition, some of the supplemental characters (children and husbands) are well shaped while others are one dimensional and rarely described. Clearly, the angry housewives are the primary characters of this novel. The most heartbreaking scene to me was when one of the sons told his mother that he felt that no one loved him. Even though she knew deep down that he was gay, she could not reach out to connect with her son--she just wanted the whole situation to go away, and if she avoided it, she thought she could make it so. She chose to close the door on her own son because she was too afraid to face facts.
Even with the criticisms we had of the book, we all enjoyed it and give it a strong recommendation.