Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (Landvik)

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons 
Lorna Ladvik, 2003
Random House
432 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345472090

From her sensational sleeper hit Patty Jane’s House of Curl to her heartwarming novel Welcome to the Great Mysterious, Lorna Landvik has won the hearts of readers everywhere by skillfully balancing hilarity with pathos, and bittersweet insights with heartwarming truths. Now she returns to her beloved, eccentric stomping ground of small-town Minnesota where the most eclectic, and engaging group of women you’ll ever meet share love, loss, and laughter.

Sometimes life is like a bad waiter—it serves you exactly what you don’t want. The women of Freesia Court have come together at life’s table, fully convinced that there is nothing good coffee, delectable desserts, and a strong shoulder can’t fix. Laughter is the glue that holds them together—the foundation of a book group they call AWEB—Angry Wives Eating Bon Bons—an unofficial “club” that becomes much more. It becomes a lifeline.

The five women each have a story of their own to tell. There’s Faith, the newcomer, a lonely housewife and mother of twins, a woman who harbors a terrible secret that has condemned her to living a lie; big, beautiful Audrey, the resident sex queen who knows that good posture and an attitude can let you get away with anything; Merit, the shy, quiet doctor’s wife with the face of an angel and the private hell of an abusive husband; Kari, a thoughtful, wise woman with a wonderful laugh as “deep as Santa Claus’s with a cold” who knows the greatest gifts appear after life’s fiercest storms; and finally, Slip, activist, adventurer, social changer, a tiny, spitfire of a woman wholooks trouble straight in the eye and challenges it to arm wrestle.

Holding on through forty eventful years—through the swinging Sixties, the turbulent Seventies, the anything-goes Eighties, the nothing’s-impossible Nineties—the women will take the plunge into the chaos that inevitably comes to those with the temerity to be alive and kicking. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons depicts a special slice of American life, of stay-at-home days and new careers, children and grandchildren, bold beginnings and second chances, in which the power of forgiveness, understanding, and the perfectly timed giggle fit is the CPR that mends broken hearts and shattered dreams. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Rasied—Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Education—attended University of Minnesota
Currently—lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lorna Landvik is the bestselling author of Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Your Oasis on Flame Lake, The Tall Pine Polka, Welcome to the Great Mysterious, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Oh My Stars, and The View from Mount Joy.

Married and the mother of two daughters, she is also an actor, playwright, and dog park attendee with the handsome Julio. Lorna Landvik wishes everyone holiday greetings of peace, love, joy, and a renewed commitment to fun. (From the publisher.)

From a 2003 interview with Barnes and Nobel:

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

Sometimes, like Flannery, I find inspiration everywhere—from a billboard, a snatch of music, a scent. Other times, I have no idea where it comes from: all of a sudden, a character appears unbidden in my head, with the urgent desire that I write about her or him.

Q: How did a book club end up at the center of the novel?

After the publication of my first novel, I got invited to speak at a book club and since then I've been to dozens and dozens. What always impresses me is the fun and friendship of these groups, some of which have been together for decades, and that's why I decided to write about one.

Q: The story of the social movements of the l960s and early l970s is often told from the vantage point of the radicalized youth of the period. Why did you decide to examine the impact of this upheaval from the vantage point of Freesia Court, an upper-middle-class neighborhood of young families?

Whatever our age or place in society is, we're still affected by the times we live in. While the women in the book aren't living in Haight Ashbury or getting arrested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, they still feel deeply about what is going on. Slip, of course, chooses to act on her convictions, giving weight to my conviction that, ultimately, mothers are the most radical faction of all.

Q: When a young man mistakes the Angry Housewives for sisters, Audrey is offended. She feels he just thinks "every woman over the age of fifty looks alike." Is this the only explanation for his gaffe?

I think he was responding to their familiarity and closeness with one another and he assumed they were related because of it.

Q: Audrey is described as someone who "refused to ask permission for the privilege of being herself." Do you think this description applies to all the Angry Housewives by the end of your novel? 

I never thought of it, but yes, I'd say so. Getting older is so culturally and cosmetically incorrect, but I think the older women get, the more their true selves emerge.

Q: Which aspect of writing this novel gave you the biggest headache?

I knew different characters wanted to tell their stories in different ways (some speak in the first person, others in the third); what helped corral all of this was when I figured out each chapter heading—the book they had chosen for discussion and why.

Q: Which books would make your greatest-hits list?

A short list would include To Kill a Mockingbird, Handling Sin (both of which are selections in the book), Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations, and maybe a book I have great affection for, the Dick and Jane books, because they were the books that taught me how to read.

Q: What is your average workday like?

I like to work every day, but that doesn't mean I do. During the school year, I usually take a walk in the morning, come home, make a latte, and read the papers, and then I try to settle down and work. But I don't stick to a regular schedule—if I have something really important going on in the day (a lunch date, a movie), I'll work later in the afternoon or at night. My family's very accommodating and I've also learned to write among them, amid distraction.

Q: What do you do when the words won't come? 

I get up, find the chocolate, and if that doesn't help, I might read and see if someone else's ability to tell a story can help fire up mine. (Interview from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
Five friends live through three decades of marriages, child raising, neighborhood parties, bad husbands and good brownies-and Landvik doesn't miss a single clich as she chronicles their lives in this pleasant but wholly familiar novel of female bonding. When Faith Owens's husband is transferred from Texas to the "stupid godforsaken frozen tundra" of Freesia Court, Minn., in 1968, her life looks like it's going to be one dull, snowy slog-until the power goes out one evening and a group of what appear to be madwomen start a snowball fight in her backyard. These dervishes turn out to be her neighbors: antiwar activist Slip; sexpot Audrey; painfully shy Merit; and widow Kari. They become fast friends and decide to escape their humdrum routine by starting the Freesia Court Book Club, later given the eponymous name by one of their disgruntled husbands. As the years pass, Audrey and Merit get divorced, Kari adopts her niece's illegitimate baby, all five of the women find work outside their homes and they even smoke a joint together. Their personal dramas are regularly punctuated by reflections on political milestones ("First Martin Luther King, Jr., then Bobby Kennedy. As if we didn't have enough to worry about with this stupid war..."). While some scenes are touching and genuinely funny, readers of Fannie Flagg, Rita Mae Brown, Rebecca Wells and many imitators will feel that they've seen this before.
Publishers Weekly

Five friends and three decades, as Landvik returns to small-town Minnesota. Little Women, anyone? Alcott’s females are an inspiration for the Freesia Court Book Club members, though there are two contenders for the role of rambunctious Jo and none for meek Beth. Gathering at the Minneapolis hospital where one of the five is undergoing treatment for cancer, they remember the dreary, endless winter they first got together, back when their kids were young and they all lived on the same tree-lined street. Mopping up baby food and stroking the egos of their self-involved husbands just didn’t seem all that fulfilling. Gee-whiz, what a surprise. But love and laughter—and friends and family—carried them through the chaotic years that changed a nation in so many ways.... Similar platitudes and preaching undermine the weak structure of this baggy tale and its multiple points of view, chapters linked by popular books of the time. The five friends, beginning in the late ’60s, are introduced one by one. Audrey Forrest is happy with her lush curves but her husband Paul thinks she’s fat. Angelically beautiful Merit Iverson smokes like a chimney, despite her doctor husband’s disapproval. Scrappy Faith Owens is sick and tired of husband Wade’s smugness, not to mention packing his suitcases (he’s an airline pilot). Kari Nelson, a gentle young widow, grieves over her husband Bjorn’s untimely death and their infertility. Slip McMahon is an ultrafit jockette, happily married to a research meteorologist, and just loves the freaky Minnesota weather. As time goes by, Audrey gets a divorce and finds new friends (two gay men); Merit ditches the abusive and dominating doctor; Faith comes to terms with her mixed feelings about her long-lost mother; Kari adopts a mixed-race child; Slip becomes a social worker. The world changes but all remain tight, all the way to menopause and telltale gray hairs. Overlong trek over familiar ground.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. During the sixties and seventies, the Angry Housewives smoked cigarettes and threw back highballs—even while pregnant—without knowledge of the harm it could do. If they could have glimpsed their futures then, what do you think would have surprised them most about their future selves? What is one thing you know now that you would have really appreciated being aware of ten years ago?

2. Why do you think groups like AHEB—women who live near each other, raise children together, and bond over books together—persist even in a climate of working moms and in a culture that is flooded with other types of media?

3. Discuss Faith's letters to her deceased mother. What kind of catharsis do they provide Faith, and how do the tone and nature of the letters change as the years go by?

4. Audrey gets a kick out of introducing Kari to strangers as a recently released convict. Discuss the women's jokes, nicknames, and embarrassing moments—how does humor work to solidify friendship?

5. Kari faces a critical decision when Mary Jo forbids her from telling Anders that the baby is his grandchild. Would you be able to keep such a secret? For which character is this secret most constructive; for which is it most destructive?

6. The women suggest that Slip thinks that by wearing revealing clothes Audrey perpetuates her role as a sex object and "'subverts [her] real self." Audrey replies that she takes no one's opinion into account when she dresses—she simply likes it. How much does physical appearance burden or bless the women in AHEB? Do you think it is easy to make generalizations regarding persons who dress provocatively?

7. Faith becomes a guardian figure after staying up with the gun waiting for Eric Iverson's return, and keeping watch over Slip in the hospital bed, prepared to confront the Grim Reaper. What do you think are her conscious or subconscious motivations for being ever watchful?

8. Audrey has a talent for sensing upcoming events. In what ways do her capabilities influence how she deals with her family? Does it differ from how they affect her friendships? How much do you believe in psychic phenomena? Would being endowed with such a gift help or hinder one's decisions?

9. Merit is ashamed that a part of her believes her mother's statement that her brave Aunt Gaylene—happily unmarried, fulfilled with friends and books—was "living half a life." What sides of Merit's character produce these contradictory feelings? How do you think the other women of AHEB would respond to this opinion, and why?

10. At the AHEB meeting for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the women toast their favorite and most influential teachers. In what other ways does the act of teaching influence the relationships in this novel?

11. Slip and Audrey allow a conflict between their children to seriously harm their friendship for a short time. If you ever had the desire to openly criticize a friend because of the way he or she raised a child, would you do so? How does Landvik's portrayal of differing parenting techniques and the children they produce function as social commentary within the novel?

12. What do you think caused Faith to (almost absent-mindedly) bring Audrey to Trilby? How did confronting Beau's sexuality help her have the strength to confront the reality of her own past?

13. Merit attributes her quiet acts of rebellion—trash rolled up furtively in her hair, choosing only banned books for AHEB meetings—to her maintenance of sanity during her years of marriage. What do you make of these coping methods? How do they compare to the methods of the other women in AHEB? Discuss your own strategies for staying lucid and balanced when confronted with situations that can be unbearable.

14. Kari and Mary Jo both question the timing and content of their admission to Julia after it's too late. Do you think it would have been wiser to have Julia grow up knowing the truth, or perhaps never knowing at all? How do you feel about Kari's impromptu decision to come clean in front of Mary Jo and without her prior knowledge? Was Julia right to be so upset?

15. How do you feel about the later inclusion of Grant as a member of AHEB? Did you think the inclusion of a male affected their particular group dynamic? What is valuable about inviting men to participate in women's dialogue?

16. Merit eventually finds Paradise, literally and figuratively. Do you believe that good things come to people who wait?

17. At the peace march, Fred states that, "Only by trying to help someone else save their life could I save my own." What do you make of this statement considering the horrors he experienced during the war? Do other characters in the novel embody or contradict this notion? Are certain characters better described as saviors than saved?

18. How are midwestern values portrayed in this book? In what ways might the book have differed if it had been set in the northeast or the south?

19. Slip is described throughout the book as the strongest— physically—of the Angry Housewives, in addition to her dynamic will and stalwart convictions. What emotions are stirred when someone who is perceived as invincible suddenly becomes critically ill? How does she continue to display conviction and energy? Do you think she will prevail?

20. Audrey says she believes in luck and God acting in tandem. What events in her life do you think contributed to this belief? How much weight do you give this sentiment regarding your own life? Do you think people tend to attribute life's painful events more to luck or to God? What about the joyous events?

21. Did you like the format of the book? How did giving every character the opportunity to voice their thoughts support the all-for-one and one-for-all theme of the book and the club itself?

22. This book covers a lot of ground, both personal and political. What do you think the most important lesson these women learn over thirty years is? Which characters were most ripe for change with the political and cultural tide? Whose story did you think most embodied the emergence of women as a growing force outside the home?

23. In order to attain a greater understanding of herself, Faith utilizes therapy, learns from her friendships and culls inspiration from books. How do these three supplement each other as means of self discovery? Which books and authors have inspired you most through the years?

24. What did you think of Merit's idea to unite mothers around the world to stop war and halt violence? Were you surprised this notion came from her?

25. Slip tells Merit that re-dubbing their book club Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons would be taking their husbands' words and "giving them and their chauvinism the finger." What other subversive techniques do the women display for giving chauvinism the finger? Do you feel it's an apt name for the club and all it turns out to be?

26. Discuss Kari's notion that her heart was able to put itself back together after the loss of Bjorn much like a lizard that can regenerate a tail. Do you think this sort of regeneration would have ever been possible without the arrival of Julia?

27. Marjorie McMahon has a plethora of nicknames: Slip, Warrior Bear, the Big Kahuna; and she is called everything from a leprechaun to a member of a "bloodstained group of nuts." What in her character lends itself so well to these various labels? Which do you think is the most accurate?

28. What do you think about Merit's final interaction with Eric Iverson? Was the slap beneath her or just what he deserved?

29. How does AHEB compare to your book club? Are there any ideas in the novel, like themes for meetings, which you'd like to incorporate?

30. Which character was your favorite? Was she or he the one you identified most with?

31. A number of the characters in the book harbor secrets. What does secret-keeping do to characters like Faith and Fred, who fear their actual secrets as opposed to Kari or Beau who fear the reactions of others?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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