Jen’s Library – How to Be an American Housewife

How to Be an American Housewife
by Margaret Dilloway

Sometimes, I get a book recommendation from one of the trashy magazines left in the lab break room. This was one of those times. I can’t remember if it was People magazine or US magazine, but I think it had “insider’s secrets about the upcoming royal wedding” all over the front cover.

I tried very hard, while reading this novel, not to compare it to Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, one of my all-time favorite novels. To a degree, they’re similar. They focus on mother-daughter relationships between Asian women (in this book they were Japanese, and Amy Tan’s characters are Chinese) and their American-born daughters, and the cross-cultural conflicts as experienced by both sides. They’re both good. But while the plot is interesting enough, Margaret Dilloway’s characters feel flat and lifeless and predictable. It’s hard to see them as anything but characters in this book, because they don’t feel real enough. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m comparing them to the women in Joy Luck Club, but either way, I had a hard time really enjoying the book. I finished it, and it kept my interest through the story, but it was predictable and didn’t leave me with that sense of satisfaction as I shut the book at the end.

I can see why it got a good review in the magazine, because it’s not a bad book., and I did enjoy it. But I feel like it’s not the book it could have been. There was a lot more potential there and I wish it had gone a little deeper and given me more. Woman falls for the wrong man, repents her sins by marrying someone her family approves of, tries to adjust to a new country as an immigrant and struggles to raise her kids in America with her Japanese values. And the daughter of course doesn’t understand her mother’s weird old-fashioned ways and struggles with being neither Japanese enough or American enough to make anyone happy. So much to work with, but I wish it had lived up to my expectations.

My favorite part of the book was the little quotations at the start of each chapter, from a handbook issued to Japanese war brides, entitled “How to be an American Housewife”. But sadly, this is also fiction. How awesome would it be to read that handbook, if it were real?

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