For Sale By Owner – Book Review

It was a maternal failure: how can one protect her children when she doesn’t even pay attention to the very air they breathe? It is, as you said, like not noticing the weather – not providing your child an umbrella for the rain, no mittens for the snow. But then, as you conceded your comparison broke down because your whole point was that, whereas the weather is out of our control, we can – we must! – change the air quality of our home. – from Domestic Air Quality, page 13 –

Kelcey Parker’s observant and finely honed collection of short stories reveals the lives of women living in suburban America – their dreams, expectations, and struggles as wives, parents and friends. Wry, biting, and skillfully constructed, these are stories that evoke the darker side of domestic life and ask the question: What is a women’s identity apart from the labels which define her?

The first story in Parker’s collection (Domestic Air Quality) examines societal expectations of women as caregivers for their children, spouse and home. Society expects a woman to create the perfect environment for those she loves, to be everything to everyone. In Domestic Air Quality, Parker spins an original story where the protagonist is involved in market research and writes a series of ironic letters similar to journal entries. As the story unspools, Parker effectively debunks the myth that we can control it all if we just try a little bit harder.

According to Fun Fact #9, “the air pressing down on your shoulders weighs about a ton, but you do not feel it because you are supported by the equal air pressure on all sides.” I respectfully disagree. I feel every single pound. – from Domestic Air Quality –

The theme of life’s pressures bearing down on women is played out in most of Parker’s stories. In Possession, a turtledove nesting in a dying plant symbolizes the protagonist’s dissatisfaction with domestic duties which are sucking her dry.

The turtledove nests in the hanging petunia plant all summer long – sitting, hatching, feeding one then another then another pair of new chicks until they fly one then another then another away. She tried to water the plant but the bird never left just stared so when the hose was pointed. The hanging petunia died of thirst, though it was more like strangulation, strangled dry. The turtledove remained. Devotion he calls it. Exhausting she calls it. You’re like that bird he points out, with the kids. Exhausting she repeats. – from Possession, page 51 –

Maugham’s Head explores the label of “Mom” as a woman’s identity as a mother navigates the uncertain journey through her suburban life with teenagers.

She understood them better before they could speak. Mommy, they used to call her. Now it’s Mo-om. But she hears only the new name she has assumed: Maugham. – from Maugham’s Head, page 57 –

Maugham not only struggles with her identity as her children grow and change, but she finds herself lonely and unsatisfied with the dreams that she and her husband have fulfilled: the big house, lots of space, and the acquisition of all the material things they thought they needed – things that now seem to magnify her emptiness as her children begin to need her less and less.

There was the reading place, which had no books, but which had a window and a chaise lounge, on which no one ever sat or read; a sleeping place with the king-sized bed that meant she never had to have contact with her husband when she slept; and an entertainment place: an armoire that contained a television instead of clothes because the clothes were in the his and hers closets, which echoed the his and hers sinks, which all seemed to say that the best thing for a family to do was to carry on with separate lives in separate rooms and separate sinks. – from Maugham’s Head, page 60 –

One of my favorite stories in the collection is The Complete Babysitter’s Handbook which examines the failing marriage of Anne and her husband Rob. Anne is an obsessive scrapbooker. Her memory books are actually sanitized versions of reality, moments in time which are laced in fantasy and dreams rather than truth. The reality of Anne’s life is an abusive spouse, a child lost and confused, and a bank account in crisis…but her memory books reveal only the wonder and joy of a domestic life.

With the right tools – colorful paper (acid-free), pre-cut borders, stencils, stickers, specialty scissors, spray adhesive, and the right choice of photos – the life she had just lived was transformed into something organized, dynamic, and happy. Like that. – from The Complete Babysitter’s Handbook, page 84 –

Kelcey Parker has created a compelling and provocative collection of short stories which are often witty, but always honest. These are stories that take the reader for a journey along the sometimes dark and twisty path of modern marriage and parenthood. The women who people Parker’s stories are smart, insightful and searching for identity in a world which often compartmentalizes them.

Readers who like smart, literary fiction will enjoy Parker’s writing. For Sale by Owner is a savvy and intriguing collection of stories.

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FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

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