Read One, Skip One: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian and American Housewife by Helen Ellis

January 14, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 25

Both of these books deal with topics that seem somewhat frivolous on the surface (bachelor parties, homemaking), but can (and in these cases, do) have much darker undertones.

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday)

Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.

My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Some of the plot points in this novel could have gone the direction of a cheesy action movie, but it didn’t feel that way at all.

As the story started to unfold, I wondered where it was going to go…there wasn’t a clear direction. But, I absolutely loved where it did go. Bohjalian covered human trafficking, marriage and what it can survive, humanity, forgiveness, and the character of men when embroiled in a compromising situation (and how much that can vary). By the end of the book, my head was swirling with “what would you do in this situation?” types of questions, making this an excellent pick for book clubs. I’d especially like to be a fly on the wall should a coed book club discuss this one!

American Housewife, Helen EllisAmerican Housewife by Helen Ellis
Fiction – Short Stories (Released January 12, 2016)
208 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Doubleday)

Plot Summary: A satirical collection of short stories about the dark side of domesticity and homemaking (quite possibly one of my least favorite words, but appropriate in this case).

My Thoughts: This short story collection was what a lot of short story collections end up being for me: hit and miss (or, in this case, hit and so-so). It’s like when a Top Chef contestant makes a “duo of lamb, tuna, whatever” and the judges ding him/her because one half of the duo was great, but the other was merely average. So, the overall dish doesn’t work. I kind of expected to laugh out loud throughout this book and to encounter “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing, but that really didn’t happen much. There were paragraphs here and there that were funny and spot-on, but few of the stories worked in their entirety for me. The two stories I really enjoyed (“Dumpster Diving with the Stars” and “The Fitter”) were a bit darker and longer than the others, allowing me to invest in the characters. Though this collection wasn’t an overall winner, it did help me clarify what types of short stories are more likely to appeal to me.

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25 Responses to “Read One, Skip One: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian and American Housewife by Helen Ellis”

  1. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    Sarah, I’m glad you enjoyed The Guest Room; I’d love to read some of his other work after reading this one. I’ll keep your suggestion in mind! I think I’m going to pass on American Housewife; I had high hopes but, after yours and Andi’s comments, I’m in no rush to pick up a copy. I think I was expecting something different. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. Kay

    Short stories are not my preferred reading material. I struggle with even trying them. I have loved the cover on American Housewife though. Still plan to read The Guest Room. I’ve not ever read a Bohjalian book. Meant to. Just haven’t yet.

    • admin

      Me too on the short stories, but I’m trying to be more open to them this year b/c I finally found a collection I loved last year (Beneath the Bonfire).

  3. Beth F

    American Housewife was a total win for me — but it perfectly hit my mood the afternoon I read it. I’m just reading Guest Room right now (well, listening). So far, so good.

    • admin

      I know of a couple others who loved American Housewife too…so I think I’m in the minority. Glad you’re enjoying The Guest Room so far!

  4. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    I really enjoyed American Housewife, laughed out loud a number of times! But it was a little…homogenous? much of the time. Haven’t read any Bohjalian yet, that might be a good one to start with. 🙂

    • admin

      YES – it was definitely homogeneous though I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time! Would have been nice to see some different types of American housewives.

  5. Carmen

    I abandoned The Guest Room after the first chapter in exchange for a shorter one that turned out to be a bad choice. I’m planning to pick it up again after I finish The Swans of Fifth Avenue, which is soooo juicy thus far.

  6. Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies

    I think I still want to give American Housewives a go… but maybe a bit less excited than I was. The cover is just genius, and the overall premise sounds so promising! Maybe I’ll get in on kindle, and then can just read a story on my phone here and there…

  7. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I’m wiping my forehead with a resounding, “Whew!” because I just received my purchased copy of The Guest Room in the mail. I’m still in the library queue for American Housewives, but I don’t feel so compelled to read it as a priority. I have a hard time connecting with short stories because of the length, but am still willing to give a few of them a try.

    • admin

      I’m with you on the short stories issues…trying be more open to them this year since I did have a winner last year (Beneath the Bonfire).

    • admin

      HA!! Love it. I’m always drawn to books on this topic, but have been burned by them a few times too.

  8. Andi


    I already knew we felt the same about this one, and I think Monika nailed it with the word “homogeneous.”

    • admin

      I agree! It didn’t come to me at the time, but looking back Monika’s description was perfect! Though I think she thought it was a bit funnier than I did.

  9. Allison @ The Book Wheel

    WOW! American Housewife is getting so much buzz and love I’m surprised, although I guess I’m not that surprised. I don’t read many short story collections because I’m usually left with an “eh” feeling about the book as a whole.

  10. Sarah R

    I just found your blog, and I’m in love! I just put The Guest Room on my library hold list. I loved The Double Bind too, but I think my favorite Bohjalian book is Skeletons at the Feast. You know someone’s a good author when I actually started to feel compassion for Nazis (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean!)

    • admin

      Awh – thank you! I’m flattered! And – Skeletons at the Feast is one of the only Bohjalian books I haven’t read…sounds like I should get on that!

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