A Housewife Novel: “Cleaning House” by Nancy Hayfield

cleaning house nancy hayfieldWords are are etchings in the sand, symbols on the page.  Think of all our blurtings on the internet.  We revere books, but most of them are transitory.

And novels rooted in political movements are precariously situated: often they die a natural death, because they seem dated. I don’t doubt that Nancy Hayfield’s Cleaning House, a rather wan novel about a lonely American housewife, had more significance when it was published in 1980.

The narrator Linda’s observations are very sharp–she allows herself to read only after a certain number of cleaning tasks, though reading is what she most enjoys. Washing dishes gives her a special sense of accomplishment. And Linda is guilt-racked, because she married to get away from home, is furious with her traveling-salesman husband for leaving her stuck at home with two children, and her house is never clean enough. And because she is slightly wacky, she converses in her head with her dead Aunt Ruth, an obsessive cleaner who believed all things were filthy and you had to be vigilant all the time to keep things clean.

Finally Linda meets a kindred spirit, Maggie, an artist, who changes the way she sees the world. Maggie teaches her that quilts have stories. and Linda begins to look at Aunt Ruth’s homemade quilt with interest.  But I must confess I didn’t finish this novel. It is reasonably well-written and very short, but surely this  unhappy housewife genre had almost run its course by 1980. And I prefer Sue Kaufman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, Marge Piercy’s Small Changes, Lois Gould’s Such Good Friends, and Sheila Ballantyne’s Norma Jean, the Termite Queen.

If you have a favorite mad housewife novel, please share it!  I was very interested in these for a while, because they kept appearing at used bookstores.

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