“Other People’s Houses” (Berkley), by Abbi Waxman
Frances Bloom can jam seven children into a minivan designed for six with no problem. Her daily carpooling duty tethers her neighbors’ lives together. It also affords her snapshots of their mornings, which are typically less than scandalous. This changes the day Frances whips the car around to retrieve a kindergarten passenger’s forgotten school supplies. In addition to finding the urgent project tools (toilet paper rolls), she finds her neighbor, Anne Porter, in the middle of an affair with a younger man.
Abbi Waxman’s “Other People’s Houses” follows the four families impacted by Anne’s fling. Rumors and suspicions ooze through the upper middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood like slime, and even the tamest of marriages begin to toe fragility. All the while, Frances continues to taxi children to and from school, take her best shot at parenting a high schooler and two other needy children, and maintaining a sexless life with her dependable husband.
Large swaths of the read take place in Frances’ head. She possesses a hilarious inner dialogue and listening in on her decision process as to which chicken to purchase for dinner proves relatable and entertaining. When we’re not loitering in Frances’ psyche, we’re privy to other characters’ thoughts. The omniscient narration at times borders on feeling overdone (at one point we’re even in the head of a cashier), but avoids discombobulating territory.
Settings provide their own comedic flair to the hubbub. The drama unfolds in front yards, around kitchen tables and in the cheering section of dreaded youth soccer games.
Waxman’s take on the drudgery of parenting is fantastic. Anyone who has ever unintentionally memorized an episode of “Dora the Explorer” or attempted to awaken a sleeping teenager will find comradery with the comically flawed folks residing in “Other People’s Houses.”