Rhoda Taber is a pregnant, suburban, Jewish housewife in New Jersey in 1940. She doesn’t always feel like she fits in, but her husband, Leonard, is a good man, and life is pretty decent. As WWII progresses, Rhoda and Leonard have two daughters, Suzanne and Claire; Rhoda isn’t always an ideal mother, but the couple is fairly happy. In a short time, life comes undone for Rhoda: two family members die, and Rhoda finds herself raising two daughters alone. To make matters more difficult, Rhoda does not really get along with either of her daughters: she and Suzanne are always at war, and she has difficulty relating to Claire’s wish to blend in and have a normal life. The novel sees Rhoda through to a final, lingering tragedy in 1960.
Household Words may not sound action-packed, but it is brilliantly written with remarkable perception. The reader may find Rhoda unsympathetic compared to her daughters at least some of the time, but each character is so discerningly depicted, and each moment seems so real, that it is hard to put the novel down—it could be about people we know. This new edition (the book was originally published in 1980) includes a brief introduction by Mona Simpson.