Middle age teaches us many things, one of which is that you never know what goes on in someone else’s marriage. At the end of the day, once the doors are closed and the curtains drawn, our dearest friends could be hanging from the chandelier with a bottle of Grey Goose in one hand and bowl of car keys in the other and we would be mercifully none the wiser. We just can’t be sure if who we see in public is who they are in private. It’s a two way street, those gorgeous moments when you get home, lock the door and settle down for the night, when it’s just you and your family, you know logically that it’s not the same in everyone’s house. There are times however, when speculation can actually turn to fact, when someone sees something they shouldn’t or acts out of character. It’s then that the gloves come off and it’s anyone’s game.
Abbi Waxman’s novel, Other People’s Houses, tells the story of suburban LA, a more mundane and normal neighborhood than one might imagine in such a city. A single block populated by all kinds of different families with interlinking relationships. This concept at first may not sound particularly interesting or different, but Waxman’s story is fun and relatable. Reliable Frances is a happily married, stay at home mother. She may not have the most exciting life or the perfect figure, but she loves her life and her husband in equal measure. She’s steady and helpful, running the neighborhood carpool and helping out wherever she can. Frances is the character we all know, hey, some of us may even have been her along the way.
One day, after dropping the kids at school, she doubles back to her neighbors house to pick up something for their child. There she sees her married neighbor, on the floor, having sex with a man who is most defintiely not her husband. What follows narratively centers around the carpool families and what is going on in each of their lives. Frances’ own slightly dull and mumsy existence; the fallout of Anne’s affair on her household; Frances’ lesbian cousin hoping for a second child and Bill, whose wife has been missing for a long time and no one knows why.
You would be wrong to relegate Other People’s Houses to the domain of chick lit as it’s far too sensitively constructed to fall into that category. You don’t dream of being these characters, but rather fear or hope that you might be like them when faced with similar life events.
Well worth a read.