Tuesday, August 01, 2006

To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife

Caitlin Flanagan writes essays on modern family life for the New Yorker, which explains why this book is long on charm and short on tirades. Despite the inflammatory title, Mrs. (dare I call her?) Flanagan takes a friendly look at all things domestic as experienced by today's at-home mother.

Just take a look at these chapters:

The Virgin Bride tries to explain how it is that today's not-likely-virgin bride gloms onto the most elaborate wedding rituals.

The Wifely Duty notes the lack of romance, and often sex, of the two-career family, with a fair amount of discretion.

Housewife Confidential compares the at-home mother with the housewife of the 1950s, with a roster of the writers who documented and defined the housewife in the contemporary press. Such underrated luminaries as Jean Kerr, Shirley Jackson (yes, she wrote The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House, but she also wrote Raising Demons in the housewifely vein), Peg Bracken, and the superstar Erma Bombeck.

A Necessary Person explains how Walt Disney both defined and destroyed the nanny for this generation, while That's My Woman describes her experience with having a nanny for her children.

Executive Child looks at the highly scheduled lives of today's children (and thus their parents).

Drudges and Celebrities examines the propensity for the at-home mother to have drudges for the down-and-dirty cleaning, and celebrities (aka Martha Stewart, et al) to teach them how to sweep floors and fold napkins.

Clutter Warriors takes a wry look at the anti-clutter movement, and the at-home mother's need for a hired organizer.

To Hell with All That describes the day that her mother, a competent and content housewife, suddenly threw in the towel and got a job, and the effect it had on then-12-year-old Caitlin. This segues into a discussion of working moms vs. at-home mothers.

My Life Without You deals with the death of her mother and her own bout with breast cancer.

And finally, in the middle of the acknowledgements, as she thanks her twin sons, she answers the question that bothered me throughout the book:

"Patrick and Conor: We did it! Thanks for your excellent help and advice. I don't know why the publisher didn't call it "To Heck with All That," like we decided. I love you."

And that's why I will read this book again, despite the title.


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