How to Be an American Housewife
By Margaret Dilloway
I can’t say enough about this stunning debut novel. Neither can the book clubs that are selecting it to discuss as it makes its rounds, gathering praise in its wake.
Dilloway delivers in this familiar but freshly- voiced territory of the mother-daughter complex relationship. How well do we really and truly know about our Mothers? Shoko, the Japanese- born Mother in this novel, is married to a white American GI soldier, Charlie, in post World War II. Wise Charlie has given Shoko a guidebook to help her navigate American culture, How to be an American Housewife, which Dilloway opens each chapter with a quote from the handbook. This handbook has helped Shoko raise her two children, Sue and Mike, and to learn to be the perfect housewife. With her health failing her, Shoko’s dream of returning to her homeland in Japan to revisit family and mend past hurts is now fading, and she is left with the choice of reaching out to her only daughter, Sue, to go in her place. Can this trip bridge the gap between mother and daughter?
The author gives us two narrators. Shoko, our first voice, tells us, “I had always been a disobedient girl.” (I identified with that!) Our second narrator, Sue, tells us, “I had always been an obedient girl.” It is no surprise that Sue leaves for Japan, and discovers a vastly different culture while gaining new understanding of her Mother’s way of being in the world. And Dilloway paints a detailed landscape to make us feel we are right there along with our heroines. Shoko dominates the novel in her clipped American dialogue that is on-target witty, insightful and honest. She is no fool- I fell in love with her character. Sue, completely assimilated in American culture, is a single mother working full time-she’s as tired as the half-alive fern at her desk.
In reviewing this book, I had to pick it up again, and that caused me to re-read passages. Dawning struck me when I read the epilogue heading-The Solitary House of Yearning. I then realized that yearning was a major theme throughout this captivating gem of a first novel. I also heard that Dilloway’s second novel is even better. Best keep our eyes on this new author.
Readers may also yearn to try, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan;