Review: Other People’s Houses – Abbi Waxman

Review: Other People’s Houses – Abbi WaxmanOther People's Houses
by Abbi Waxman
Publication Date: April 3, 2018
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

"Abbi Waxman is both irreverent and thoughtful."--#1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin
And now the author of The Garden of Small Beginnings returns with a hilarious and poignant new novel about four families, their neighborhood carpool, and the affair that changes everything.
At any given moment in other people's houses, you can find...repressed hopes and dreams...moments of unexpected joy...someone making love on the floor to a man who is most definitely not her husband...
*record scratch*
As the longtime local carpool mom, Frances Bloom is sometimes an unwilling witness to her neighbors' private lives. She knows her cousin is hiding her desire for another baby from her spouse, Bill Horton's wife is mysteriously missing, and now this...
After the shock of seeing Anne Porter in all her extramarital glory, Frances vows to stay in her own lane. But that's a notion easier said than done when Anne's husband throws her out a couple of days later. The repercussions of the affair reverberate through the four carpool families--and Frances finds herself navigating a moral minefield that could make or break a marriage.

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4 stars icon

I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would!  It’s a quirky, humorous and insightful take on suburban family life, including the carpool, Saturday morning soccer, the neighborhood gossip vine, and why it’s always a pizza delivery guy in porn films.

Fuck you again, I say, thought Frances, calmly placing mugs upside down in the glass-fronted cabinet. Fuck you very much for ruining my carefully constructed life in which all my friends are just as happy as I am. Where we are going to do it better than our parents did, are going to be happy and raise our kids without ambivalence and frustration. Fuck you for peeling the lid off the can of worms, you selfish, selfish cow.

The main plot revolves around Frances, called St. Frances by some of the moms at school, stay-at-home mom of two and carpool driver, and the suburban LA neighborhood she lives in, including her cousin Iris and her wife Sara, Bill and his missing wife Julie, Anne and Charles, and Anne’s twenty-something paramour…  It’s Frances, always helpful Frances, who walks in on Anne and her boyfriend while retrieving forgotten craft supplies, and the revelation of the affair leads to everyone in the neighborhood re-evaluating what they really know about their families and their neighbors.

“It was remarkable how much you could tell about someone’s state of mind purely by looking at the way they put down their bag at the end of the day, or by the sound of a door closing, or even by how long it took for them to walk into the house after you heard the beep of the car alarming itself. You become an anthropologist studying a tribe of one, and then if you have kids, you start studying them, too; but they’re harder because the little bastards are studying you right back, and changing and growing in a frustrating step function of leaps, bounds, and backward stumbles.”

I think my favorite part of this book was how relatably honest and brutally insightful it is – from the day-in, day-out drudgery of loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, cleaning up pet accidents, checking homework to the sweet and silly moments that remind you why you’re raising these little hellions or why you married this person.  I identified most with Frances – I, too, struggle with being the overly helpful SAHM – but there were aspects of Anne’s character that I got.  Anne is deeply depressed, and from her POV we find out that she kept the affair going just to feel something, even if it was only a deep self-loathing.  While there’s a table at the front of the book with a list of characters, I found I didn’t really have to refer to it as all of the characters, even the little kids, were well-defined, from sulky teen Ava to anxious Theo to silly Lally.

“All these families, all struggling against one thing or another, doing their best, or maybe just pretending to be interested, or maybe actively trying to destroy each other, who knows. All of them united momentarily around fucking peewee soccer, brought together by the twin desires for healthy children and something to do on a Saturday. Inwardly Frances shrugged, because it doubtless meant something significant and deep, but all she could think was that the whole thing was incredibly tiring and she needed more coffee. Sometimes life is just what it is, and the best you can hope for is ice cream.”

Does anything particularly important happen?  In the grand scheme of things, no.  I mean, the big denouement happens at a birthday party complete with bouncy house!  But it’s a fascinating exploration of the little things that combine together to form friendships, relationships, families, and neighborhoods, and that we can never truly guess what’s going on in other people’s houses.

Overall, this was a hilariously honest look at suburban life, and I enjoyed every minute.  Highly recommended!

“’Do you ever feel like running away?’ Ava asked her.
Frances shook her head. ‘Where would I go? Everything I love is here.’”

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