Keeping the House by Ellen Baker
A Novel

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Synopsis

Set in the conformist 1950s and reaching back to span two world wars, Ellen Baker’ s superb novel is the story of a newlywed who falls in love with a grand abandoned house and begins to unravel dark secrets woven through the generations of a family. Like Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt in its intimate portrayal of women’ s lives, and reminiscent of novels by Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler, Keeping the House is a rich tapestry of a novel that introduces a wonderful new fiction writer.

When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950, she discovers all too soon that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Dolly tries to adapt to her new life by keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, and fretting about dinner menus. She even gives up her dream of flying an airplane, trying instead to fit in at the stuffy Ladies Aid quilting circle. Soon, though, her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by the vacant house on the hill. As Dolly’s life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the story of three generations of Mickelson men and women: Wilma Mickelson, who came to Pine Rapids as a new bride in 1896 and fell in love with a man who was not her husband; her oldest son, Jack, who fought as a Marine in the trenches of World War I; and Jack’s son, JJ, a troubled veteran of World War II, who returns home to discover Dolly in his grandparents’ house.

As the crisis in Dolly’s marriage escalates, she not only escapes into JJ’s stories of his family’s past but finds in them parallels to her own life. As Keeping the House moves back and forth in time, it eloquently explores themes of wartime heroism and passionate love, of the struggles of men’s struggles with fatherhood and war and of women’s conflicts with issues of conformity, identity, forbidden dreams, and love.

Beautifully written and atmospheric, Keeping the House illuminates the courage it takes to shape and reshape a life, and the difficulty of ever knowing the truth about another person’s desires. Keeping the House is an unforgettable novel about small-town life and big matters of the heart.



 

 

About Ellen Baker

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Ellen Baker is author of Keeping the House, which won the 2008 Great Lakes Book Award. She has worked as a bookseller and event coordinator at an independent bookstore. She lives in Minnesota.
 
Published July 10, 2007 by Random House. 546 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Romance. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Keeping the House

Kirkus Reviews

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Baker's sprawling debut recounts the woes of a wealthy Midwestern family from the turn of the 20th century to the dawn of the 1950s.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Keeping the House: A Novel

Publishers Weekly

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Baker's first novel is a long and uneven multigeneration family saga set in small town Wisconsin. In 1896, Wilma comes to the rough backwoods town of Pine Rapids as the alarmed new bride of a l

Mar 05 2007 | Read Full Review of Keeping the House: A Novel

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