CLEANING HOUSE by Nancy Hayfield

CLEANING HOUSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Young suburban housewife/mother Linda is cleaning her refrigerator (""my alter ego""), trying to decide whether to tell traveling-salesman-husband Jack about the drab orgy she and buddy Maggie hosted last night: that's the framework, an artificial and unconvincing one, for this talented but thin potpourri of wry Linda's memories, musings, self-analyses, and observations on housewifely life. She thinks about her frazzled insecurities as a night-school dropout and new arrival in this upper-middle-class area: ""the women in this neighborhood were all of life's seniors and graduate students, and I felt left out, bruised. . . ."" She remembers her deprived orphan childhood (""God, did I want a Winky Dink screen"") with tough, penny-wise Aunt Ruth, who infected Linda with obsessive housecleaning and who still haunts her with household-hints from the grave. She tells of her run-in with the Avon lady, her fondness for Salada tea-bag proverbs, her mystical attachment to an Hawaii Five-O episode, her frigidity. And above all she reports on her friendship with neighbor Maggie--who, as usual in repressed-housewife scenarios like this one, is the total opposite of Linda (at least on the surface): a swearing, irreverent, ex-radical artist who keeps her house good and dirty, puts down her handsome doctor-husband's sexual prowess, brands Linda's Jack ""a Formica personality,"" and heaps affectionate abuse (""Maybe Tupperware will come out with a whole line of you"") on Linda. Eventually, of course, it's Maggie who'll raise Linda's consciousness (""The ironing, the ironing, was fast becoming the irony, the irony"") and goad her--not very plausibly--into that unglamorous ""orgy"" (strip board-games, quickie-sex) while Jack's out of town. But Maggie's own covered-over miserableness will surface on orgy night; and before Linda can confess all to returning hubby Jack, he confesses his infidelities (with Maggie and others) to her--which leads to a let's-start-again finale, dubiously linked to an epiphany concerning Aunt Ruth (who, Linda now realizes, was hiding a painful illness all those years). As a novel, then, the effects here seem flimsily contrived. And Hayfield's sleek prose often succumbs to the first-novelist disease of simile-itis--working too hard to stack image upon image, many of which seem strained, some just plain wrong (""our payment booklet for the new furniture was as thick and dense as a slice of white bread""). But the material on Aunt Ruth is richly specific (it could perhaps have been the core of a plainer, quieter novel); the intensely ironic play with brand-names and kitchen traumas will please those looking for a more rigorous Erma Bombeck; and there's some minor pleasure here in watchihg a modestly promising writer getting her feet wet.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux