Dysfunction Junction

…what’s your function? (yes, I am a child of the ’70s)
Keeping the House by Ellen Baker
Guys! A historical novel I really, really liked! Seriously! Even sat in the car for way too long because I didn’t want to leave the story (on audiobook, obviously; book-reading while driving is not advised, I’m told).
The story is divided primarily into 3 time periods, which made me think of the 3 layers of the quilt Dolly and the Ladies’ Aid are quilting.
Dolly’s 1950 world is one layer. Dolly’s a young bride, and her (clueless) husband Byron’s hauled her off to a small Wisconsin town where he’s working at a car dealership with a war buddy. Dolly’s so lonely she joins the quilting group even though she doesn’t know how to quilt.
And man, do they got the gossip, them quilting ladies.
Dolly’s fallen in love with a big old deserted house on a hill, and the ladies say all kinds of nasty things about the Mickelson family who lived there. (Given that the Mickelsons don’t live there no more, you kinda figure early on that Something Happened. And did it ever. This thing’s got the melodrama turned On.)
The other 2 layers are the years of World War I—when the older Mickelson boys go off to war, and the years of World War II—when all hell breaks loose in the Mickelson family.
We get to jump back in time and see the Mickelson mess as it slowly simmers and then boils over.
And then we hop back to 1950 to see Dolly’s horridly unsatisfying housewife life. (Betty Friedan must have talked with Dolly, I’m thinking, when gathering material for that first book of hers.)
The key turning point in the book (and it happens fairly early on, so I don’t think I’m totally ruining anything here) is when Dolly, who has begun to sneak into the Mickelson house to clean it and restore it to its former glory, gets discovered by the prodigal Mickelson grandson, who’s been drinking himself into a stupor since the war’s end.
So the whole cast of characters… they just run into trouble at every turn. It’s glorious fun to read and will work for readers who need a galloping plot and also for those who read for character.
Audiobook notes: 16 ½ hours, read by Christine Williams. It took me a disc or two to get into the voice, but then it all meshed. And trapped me in my car.

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