Keeping the House, by Ellen Baker, is a large, meaty family saga about a small town in Wisconsin mostly during and after World War II. There are two parallel stories going at once – first, that of the Mickelson family and their supposedly cursed house, the largest in town; and second, that of Dolly Magnuson, a newlywed in her early 20s who moves to that same small town and becomes obsessed with the Mickelsons and their family history.
Keeping the House is one of those books that makes me really grateful to be born when I did. Two of the main characters are frustrated housewives whose lives are unfulfilling, to say the least. They are homemakers and mothers (or trying to get pregnant), and they are restless and resentful. Most of the women in the book are either married to, involved with, or mother to soldiers/vets/men killed in action, and Keeping the House is also about the brutality of war for both those who fight it and those left behind.
Keeping the House has a lot of things I like in a book – historical American setting, family domestic drama and detailed, observant writing. For me, the book took a bit of a turn toward the end, when it started bordering on melodrama. Too many little plot twists that were unlikely (such as women getting pregnant the first and only time they were with the wrong man), too many secrets, too much focus on one unstable character and his abhorrent (yet always excused) behavior. I was of course too deeply involved with the book to give up at that point, but I did start to roll my eyes a bit.
Keeping the House is a long book, and despite its faults, I am glad I read it. I ceratinly got wrapped up in it, and I liked the setting and subject matter. I listened to this one mostly on audio, and the audio version is just OK. The narrator sounds like she is smiling the whole time she is reading, and she (like the book) is a bit overdramatic. 13 discs of that voice is a lot.
I think I requested this book from Random House when it came out in 2007, so a belated thank you to Random House for the review copy!