Sunday, October 6, 2013

Loving Hands At Home by Diane Johnson

Being the perfect wife is stressful.

Karen Fry is a young wife and mother in Brentwood during the 1960’s. But it is clear, especially to herself, that Karen falls woefully short of the high homemaking standards expected by her Latter Day Saints in-laws. Partly to get away from their opprobrium, she takes her two small children on afternoon trips around LA, applying for wacky jobs, such as receptionist in a cat hotel and fortune teller on Santa Monica Pier. Little by little, however, she learns her conventional in-laws, especially the wives, have some strong internal pressures needing release. Also, she and her brother-in-law begin a strange affair.

Reading this makes me very glad I wasn’t a wife in the 60s. It doesn’t sound like that great a time for women. Or at least for women’s self expression. I wanted to read an early Diane Johnson novel, mostly for historical reasons, but then after I had finished the first chapter I thought, Another wonderful Diane Johnson book. The scenes are “zany," satirical and full of high energy.  Also, there is a classic Johnson BIG scene at the end which ends up with Karen and the kids moving to live in a mail truck at the beach. The final image is that of an “extraordinary, inspired sand castle” she and the children have built.

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