Book Review – Keeping the House by Ellen Baker (2007)

When Dolly Magnuson married Byron, she was head over heels in love, but within a short time she realized that her husband had difficulty communicating his feelings. They moved from their hometown for Byron’s new job which left Dolly without companions except for the Ladies Aid quilting circle where the women were much older than she.

Dolly tried hard to make their small bungalow comfortable and went overboard to make Byron nutritious meals and to please him in every way. She was captivated by the vacant house on a nearby hill and started to visit it secretly each day. The quilters filled her in on the Mickelson family, the owners who hadn’t lived there for several years. Dolly dreamed that her marriage might improve if she and Byron could buy the Mickelson house; she began to clean and repair the house, hoping that it could someday be hers.

Dolly was startled when JJ Mickelson, a wounded veteran of World War II, came to stay at his family’s homestead. Dolly pretended to him that JJ’s father Jack was paying her to keep the house up.

Flashbacks reveal many of the well-kept secrets of the Mickelson family over three generations. JJ told her many things and her quilting circle verified some of the stories, although they were always suspicious of the reasons for Dolly’s inquiries.

The Mickelson family was indeed a mystery. Wilma and John’s children – JJ, Harry and Elissa all had issues along with their mother Wilma who never recovered from the death of her favorite son Chase who was killed in the war. Everyone wondered why John was so adamant that Elissa not take up with Nick Overby with whom she had fallen in love.

JJ himself is a mystery. Even though he vowed to Dolly that he never went after a married woman, he made overtures to her to which she succumbed in her loneliness. JJ also did the same thing to his brother’s fiancée Ann which resulted in far-reaching consequences.

Gradually, the picture of the Mickelson family clears up as we come to the present day in the story. Surprising and startling events are brought to light, some of which impact on Dolly’s marriage.

Although the first 50 pages of Keeping the House move slowly, it soon becomes a page-turner for readers who remain patient. Also, each chapter is preceded by an excerpt on marriage from 1939 back issues of Ladies Home Journal and the Good Housekeeping Marriage Book. These are hilarious when we contrast them with the women of today who are not under their husband’s thumb as in olden days.


Keeping the House by Ellen Baker (2007)

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