Keeping the House: A Novel – Ellen Baker

There are probably many books that I would love to read but, because I have never heard of them and likely never would hear of them, I don’t get to enjoy them. Time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it on a book that just makes you go, “meh.” This book was definitely not a waste of time.

I believe I originally heard of this book through a BookBub email. While I rarely buy anything through their recommendations, this book peaked my interest. A story set in the fifties (actually, my birthday falls within the span of the story), a book with history in it, set in Wisconsin, a story that includes an old house – it all just came together to pique my interest. The only thing that threw me off a bit was a comparison to other books that were about “women’s lives.” I was afraid it might be another polemic about injustices that women have suffered at the hands of men, rather than an examination of universal themes shown through a woman’s eyes.

Yeah, I open myself up to a lot of nasty comments with that remark, but as a man, I do get a little tired of being accused of being the bad guy all the freaking time. Certainly, there are men who I would like to whack upside the head just as much as any women would, but there are women that deserve the same, and blaming a man for their condition is a cheap excuse for their own lack of gumption. I better quit this digression before I get myself into hot water (or hotter water) with those who would take issue with this. Glad to discuss it another time, but just for the record, I do think that women have suffered from attitudes that disrespected their abilities.

In any event, you do not need to be a woman to appreciate the things that the main character in the book, a woman, goes through. If you are a man reading this book and cannot relate, then maybe you should take a closer look at your attitude towards women. As for me, I thought that this was a wonderful story about personal conflict and the resolution of same.

The story does take place mostly in Wisconsin and encompasses both world wars and the early fifties. The author obviously has done her homework and is able to describe not only what the women in the story go through, but the men as well. This history all adds to the depth of the book.

I found that there was something in almost all the characters to which I could relate. It is a talent to create characters whom you can both dislike and feel sympathy for almost at the same time, and this author does this with aplomb. At one time or another, I could easily feel myself in several of the characters’ shoes.

Throw in my fascination with old houses. I drive by houses, particularly old houses, and wonder about the lives of the people who live there and have lived there. There are so many stories in the world that no one will ever hear, and those old houses seem to hold on to those stories. I am always sad when a once grand old house gets torn down, or even when an old farm house bites the dust. It always feels like a loss of more than just the house – it is the loss of all the lives, and the stories of the lives, of the people who lived in that house. The house in this book is no exception, and I don’t think it spoils the story for me to say that it is still standing at the end of the book.

I thought that this was such an excellent book that I decided to add a hard copy to my library. There are very, very few books that I read in either ebook format or borrow from the library and then go on to buy a hard copy for myself, but this book qualified for such an honor, as it were. I suppose it just hit all the right points for me. It may not for you, but I strongly suggest you give this book a chance.

Finished 2/4/18