The Home-Maker describes Evangeline, an obsessively house-proud mother and home-maker (a word that is in everyday use in America but not in Britain) who renders each of her children miserable in different ways, through her perfectionism and her need to control; without realizing it, she is frustrated and bored – yet she thinks she is a good and devoted mother.
Lester, her husband, is also unhappy, at home and at work. It is only when he falls off a roof that his family’s life changes; he is wheelchair-bound at home and his wife goes to work in a department store (the setting is smalltown New England). The children gradually blossom; all sorts of practical ruses are devised (like covering the kitchen floor with newspaper when Evangeline leaves each morning); and a Montessori Father is born. The scene where he surreptitiously watches his youngest child learning to use an eggwhisk is one of the great scenes in the literature of childhood, in ‘a remarkable and brave novel’
Another great read from Persephone, only the second I have read so far set in America.
I think it is quite remarkable that this novel was first published in 1924 – it remains as current now as it has ever been. The only difference is that attitudes to a husband staying at home have changed. The only way Lester’s position is tolerated and sympathised with by the small town society in which he lives, is because he is in a wheelchair. Evangaline is a difficult character to like as the novel begins – but as she begins work at the store we see her change, but it is Lester’s transformation that is the most poignant. Evangaline is a fascinating character, her very monstrousness making her very memorable. A man who is convinced of his own uselessness, finds a place for himself, and the relationship he develops with his children, especially the youngest Stephen – is wonderful.