Keeping the House: A Novel by Ellen Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Technically, I read 75% of this book in 2011. Minor detail aside... I was intimidated by the size of this book and the switching timelines of the story. Under normal conditions I wouldn't have chosen this book, but it was the selection for book club so I sucked it up. I was glad I did. This story had rich characters set in an active history period - through WWI, WWII and the aftermath of the war. The shifting timeline was well done and worked with the multiple storylines running through the book. The story climax was well done and the ending well satisfied. A very good read on so many levels.
Synopsis: When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950, she discovers all too soon that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Dolly tries to adapt to her new life by keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, and fretting about dinner menus. She even gives up her dream of flying an airplane, trying instead to fit in at the stuffy Ladies Aid quilting circle. Soon, though, her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by the vacant house on the hill. As Dolly’s life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the story of three generations of Mickelson men and women: Wilma Mickelson, who came to Pine Rapids as a new bride in 1896 and fell in love with a man who was not her husband; her oldest son, Jack, who fought as a Marine in the trenches of World War I; and Jack’s son, JJ, a troubled veteran of World War II, who returns home to discover Dolly in his grandparents’ house.
As the crisis in Dolly’s marriage escalates, she not only escapes into JJ’s stories of his family’s past but finds in them parallels to her own life. As Keeping the House moves back and forth in time, it eloquently explores themes of wartime heroism and passionate love, of the struggles of men’s struggles with fatherhood and war and of women’s conflicts with issues of conformity, identity, forbidden dreams, and love.
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