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Keeping the House

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About the Author

Ellen Baker was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and grew up in Wisconsin and Illinois. She earned a masters degree in American studies from the University of Minnesota, worked as curator of a World War II museum, and is currently a bookseller and event coordinator at an independent bookstore. She lives with her husband in Wisconsin. From the Hardcover edition.


Baker's first novel is a long and uneven multigeneration family saga set in small town Wisconsin. In 1896, Wilma comes to the rough backwoods town of Pine Rapids as the alarmed new bride of a lumber baron's first son, John Mickelson. Wilma is already regretting her jump from college to matrimony when she gets off the train and promptly falls in love: first with her brother-in-law, Gust, and then with the beautiful home on a hill that is now hers. Counterpointing Wilma's unhappy trial by marriage and motherhood is a complementary story set in 1950, when another new bride comes to Pine Bluff. Unlike Wilma, Dolly Magnuson married the man she wanted desperately. Unable to conceive, she is determined to be the perfect housewife, a plan that morphs into an obsession with the old Mickelson house, now unlived in and uncared for. The novel expands to encompass the stories of the grown Mickelson children: as Dolly begins taking care of the house, and the Mickelsons begin entering and exiting it by way of a window. Stuffed to bursting with stories of love, loss, revenge, obsession, emotional and physical violence, and general familial mayhem, Baker's book makes readers work to sort out the fates of the most engaging characters. (July) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Newlywed Dolly Magnuson tries to be the perfect 1950s wife but quickly becomes restless in little Pine Rapids, WI, far from friends and family. Intrigued by the grand Michelson house on a hill not far from her bungalow, Dolly begins to visit the abandoned mansion on the sly-dusting, polishing, and imagining the house her own. From quilting circle gossip, Dolly gradually pieces together the story of the ill-fated Michelson family, and when the charmingly dissolute J.J. Michelson moves back to the house, Dolly's boring days become interesting. Unfortunately, the Michelsons, who so fascinate Dolly as she ferrets out their stories, never emerge as than stock characters. Several story lines (interposed with Dolly's) seem promising, but it's hard to care. Even Dolly's new friend J.J. (tormented by his past), Dolly's husband (unwilling to open up), and Dolly herself (sorting out her feelings for both men) never fully come to life. Some humor might have enlivened the tired theme of marriage as compromise in this debut. An optional purchase where women's fiction is popular.-Laurie A. Cavanaugh, Brockton P.L., MA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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