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Keeping the House

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3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  1,608 ratings  ·  341 reviews
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 Eli ...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published July 15th 2008 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Michelle
Okay, I LOVED this book. It was SO freaking good and I raced through it, even though it was longish (over 500 pages). I literally finished it all in one plane ride. I didn't expect to like it because it seemed like it might be a little domestic/quaint for me. The characters were great, the interwoven plot lines were great... I just thought this book was awesome. I've been thinking about it for days.
Alexis
This novel is essentially about marriage in the 50s, and how it was impacted by both world wars as well as by conventions of the time. The story itself started out slowly for me. I thought it was a little simplistic, even for a "simpler" time. One of the more interesting features was excerpts from magazines such as "Good Housekeeping" from the early '50s, giving advice about how to keep the house and the husband happy. The story eventually picked up its' pace, with several family secrets exposed ...more
Jeanne
Set in Wisconsin, this is the story of two families: the Magnusons and the Mickelsons.

Dolly and Byron Magnuson just moved to Pine Rapids, WI. It is 1950, and Dolly is desperately trying to be the perfect wife. While working on a quilt with the town's old biddies, she learns of the other family.

The Mickelsons lived in Pine Rapids also. Wilma and John were married in 1896 and lived in a grand house in the small town. They had four children, two of whom served in WWI and two grandchildren, one of w
...more
Kit
This is not a *bad* book: it's a quick read and the chapter headings quoting marriage advice from circa 1940s Good Housekeeping magazines are kinda fun. There's a lot of American history here, as the family story spans something like 1895 to 1950, but a number of the (many) characters are just flat and I found the structure (weaving back and forth between time and characters' POV) sometimes wearisome.
Elizabeth
Young immigrant Knute Mickelson may not have founded the town of Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, but the sawmill he built north of the small town and the family dynasty created after his marriage to an ambitious New York woman surely were the driving forces in the growth and development of the forested northwest Wisconsin village. In her debut novel, Keeping the House, Ellen Baker recounts the multi-generational family saga of the Mickelsons as told through the experiences of Dolly Magnuson, a new resi ...more
Adam
Oct 21, 2010 Adam rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one at all ever
Shelves: audiobooks-a-z
Post listen review

How do I sum up what I thought about this book? I am going to have to turn to Kristen Chynoweth and Idina Menzel for the answer to that. “What is this feeling? Fervid as a flame, Does it have a name? Yes! Loathing. Unadulterated loathing”.

I hated every second of this book for a plethora of reasons but here are just a few for you.

Stagey whispering/shouting in the narration
The narrator has an irritating voice and reads the book as if she is on a stage in front of a large audience
...more
Beth
I liked this book.

It is sort of a cross between "How to Make and American Quilt" and "Drowning Ruth." As in "How to Make and American Quilt," there are intermittent quilting scenes where one of the story-lines unfolds. And it is like "Drowning Ruth" somewhat because it is post Great War and that influences much of what happens, but mostly because I spent a good deal of my reading time trying to figure out where, exactly, in Wisconsin that book was set.

I can imagine Oprah taking a shine to this
...more
Sandra
Feb 15, 2015 Sandra rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sandra by: Marie
Shelves: fiction
One of the things that makes this book so fun is an epigraph at the beginning of chapters that are employing a new subject or change in the lives of Dolly or the Michelson Household. I had to look it up, but there actually was a cook book in the 1940s' called The Modern Family Cookbook. It has a list of "creeds" women should follow (NOT THE MAN), to ensure a happy household..ie: "Happy family relationships are my responsibility; therefore-I will save enough energy to do my job of being a happy a ...more
Junita
Ellen Baker is from Superior, Wisconsin (across the bridge from Duluth) and my mom cleans her teeth. This is her first novel, impressively published by Random House, about a housewife in the 1950's.
Stephanie
I nearly gave up on Keeping the House very early because the reader on the CD version is SO irritating. She overdramatizes nearly every line. Nevertheless, I stuck with it because I have a fairly long commute and need long audiobooks.

Well, this one is unnecessarily long. The author really strings us along. She alternates between several time periods, and often tells the same scene in more than one section, but without really giving a significantly different viewpoint as such a multiplicity of p
...more
Sara
I loved this nostalgic story that chronicles the story of a newlywed fifties housewife. Well written, poignant and endearing, this novel develops into a lovely family saga. Dolly Magnuson is naive, sweet and has nothing more in her life than planning her dinner menus. She thinks her marriage will work if she looks great, cooks great and maintains her house—these things are, after all, what are expected of a married woman. Dolly always wears her best dresses and heels for her husband and ensures ...more
Erica
I love thoughts like this: "...because she had read somewhere that nothing says 'Happy Home' to a husband like his smiling wife in an apron and lovely dress bidding him come to the table where she has a colorful, balanced, hot meal waiting." I'm sure that was a wonderful way to keep house more than half a century ago and by that standard, my home is nothing remotely happy, but I am glad that such notions are not the standard today. I would have a difficult time matching aprons to dresses and mak ...more
Sara floerke
This is the second time I've read Keeping The House, which is historical fiction. I really enjoyed the characters, felt like they were people I know. The way Baker was able to describe the feelings of vulnerability and expectation in marriage were so close to reality. The plot kept the pages moving for me.

Our book club read this and had a hoot with the discussion. Ellen Baker was part of it via speakerphone. It was utterly delightful to have the "creator of the world" in which we had all been su
...more
Katy
I decided to read this book because of my daughter writing a masters thesis on the roles of women in the 1950s, as set forth through Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. Since these were magazines often found in my childhood home during the 1960s (since Mom was a bride from the 1950s), I was especially curious to see what are the conceptions as opposed to what I remembered.

A young bride finds that making marriage work is much more than her "Bible" for being a good wife, the Ladies Home Jo
...more
Lora King
I absolutely LOVED this book. Set between the late 1800's and 1950, Dolly is a newlywed but stiffled by 1950's ideal of the perfect housewife. She becomes fascinated by the Mickelson's house, the largest house in town that has been abandoned. After hearing bit's and pieces of stories of the family who lived in thehouse, she starts to piece together the dark happenings that stretch through 2 generations of that family. I didn't see some of the twist and turns coming, I thought it would end differ ...more
Jill
I feel like because I mostly read based on recommendations from friends, my mother and my grandmother, it's SO rare for me to read a book I don't like anymore - thanks to my grandmother I just finished this one and really enjoyed it. It jumps between WWI, WWII and five years after WWII and is the story of a family and all that happens in it through a few generations. Strangest to read was the way the author started each chapter with a snippet from a book or magazine about how a wife should treat ...more
Carrie
I thoroughly enjoyed reading KEEPING THE HOUSE! With themes one can relate to today and characters you cannot forget, this is a wonderful debut novel from an author I can't wait to read more from. Ellen Baker's prose is smooth and her timing is perfect as she seamlessly moves back and forth following two families - the Mickelsons struggling with the effects of WWI and WWII during 1900 to 1950 and the Magnusons struggling with the ideals of marital and household perfection in 1950's. Entirely eng ...more
Margaret
In a nutshell I would say why can't these people control their desires and their bodies, my goodness! With that rant out of the way, I must admit that the style of writing appealed to me with the flashbacks, the wrapping of the stories and bringing it all to a pleasant ending. The excerpts from 1950's era help books for the competent housewife, helped you to feel in tune with the story. It had enough depth even though the story lines flitted around infidelity for me to stay with the book.
Mindy Sue
Sep 26, 2007 Mindy Sue rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who love history and domesticity!
This is a great novel about a housewife from 1950 who falls in love with a grand house in the town that her and her husband had just moved to. I love this book because it talks about domestic issues from 1950 as well as the generations before. With a great story line and flash backs from characters, it's a book that teaches me history as well as greatens my love for my research into the retro housewife.
Deborah Sigel
I love a book with a lot of meat! Over 500 pages, 3 generations, 3 stories of the same family and the house that's supposedly cursed with bad luck and unhappiness. And even though the stories jumped back and forth between decades and memories, it wasn't confusing to read. It was shown quite clearly at the beginning of each section/chapter what date and location you were going to read about.
Squibart
Well written and wrapped in layers. It is obvious that the author took time creating this story and its characters. I had a difficult time getting into the novel at first and felt that part one dragged for me. I appreciated the snippets of marriage advice presented at the beginning of each chapter as they were used cleverly. They were disturbing and somewhat appalling in the eyes of this modern woman. As a reader I struggled with attending to the timeline and which family members belonged to whi ...more
Diane
Welcome to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, where the men are misogynists, the women are vapid and the children are below average. (My apologies, Garrison Keillor! I'd much rather come visit Lake Wobegone than spend another moment in this town!)

The only reason I did not give the book one star was the ending offered a bit of redemption for Dolly. Throughout the book, the only character I had any fondness for was Harry, one of the sons in the original family. Maybe it was the difference in culture and tim
...more
Caitlin
I really did love this book. It is the type of book that I prefer. I love books that go back and forth between generations, an old house full of memories, and characters that you fall in love with! My one complaint was that until about half way through the book, I was VERY confused about who was who, what time period we were in, who was related in what way...etc. Once you catch on about half way through, that gets a little easier. The whole family tree and dynamics had me confused the whole firs ...more
Aubrie
I was soooo disappointed in this book. Way too long, way too predictable, way too cliche. All the characters were flat stereotypes that I could not identify with or bring myself to care about. The storyline was completely unbelievable with an abrupt, unsatisfying ending.
Marie
Each chapter in Ellen Baker's novel begins with an excerpt from a 1950s homemaking guide...about how women can keep their husbands happy. The central theme of Keeping the House is the pressure to be perfect that women faced in the early to mid-1900s.

Told through the lens of Dolly Magnuson, a homemaker who moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin in 1950 without any friends in the area, the book goes back to the late 1800s when Dolly begins visiting an abandoned mansion and uncovers the secrets of the fam
...more
Amy
I'm glad that I read this book over a week when I really didn't have a chance to sit down and read for long periods of time. This gave me the chance to stay with the families of Keeping the House just a little bit longer, and I loved it. I was able to savor the stories of Dolly Magnuson as a housewife in 1950 as she heard the saga of the Mickelson family of Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, over the course of a half century. It was fun to read the excerpts from magazines and books geared toward women and ...more
Ann
I enjoyed the author's artfulness in weaving three generations' stories; really kept me on my toes as the story jumped backward and forward. And what a tale -- makes Peyton Place seem oh so dull and dreary!
Jill
Great premise, but very disappointing. A big long commitment of a book that just wasn't worth it.
Carrie
This nostalgic and engaging story was one of the best books I've read this year. Although the books is lengthy, I always felt that the story moved along at a comfortable pace and was written from several different viewpoints and periods of time.

The most interesting aspect of the book were the evolving marital roles of both men and women throughout three generations. Women are faced with the idea that housekeeping is the foundation for a strong marriage/happy family, and make many personal sacri
...more
Carin
I don't read family sagas often, and yet I like them. I think it's the usual length associated with sagas that puts me off. But I should get over that! This book was pretty great.

Dolly moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin, in 1950 when her husband buys a car dealership with an army buddy. A traditional 50s housewife, Dolly tries hard to find solace and satisfaction in cooking her husband interesting and varied meals (which she tracks on her calendar, noting what he liked and what he's had recently so
...more
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Loved this book! 4 27 Sep 16, 2013 02:11PM  
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Ellen Baker has worked as a living history interpreter, a museum curator, and a bookseller and event coordinator at an independent bookstore. Her first novel, KEEPING THE HOUSE, won the 2008 Great Lakes Book Award; her second novel is I GAVE MY HEART TO KNOW THIS. She lives in Minnesota.
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“Homes should mean something to us humans. They are a basic instinct. A home, with a life that centers only on food and sleep, is not really a home, it's a house. Beauty and graciousness, joy of living, being used in every part, these are the things that make a house a home. (chapter header quote from Popular Home Decorations, 1940)” 4 likes
“Flying lessons? That's not very wifely.” 1 likes
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