The Lunar Housewife

Written by Caroline Woods
Review by Trish MacEnulty

A novel within a novel is tricky business. For one thing, both stories must be compelling. Secondly, they should be mutually relevant, each one somehow illuminating the other. Fortunately, Caroline Woods succeeds on both fronts in this stylishly written novel set in the Cold War era. Louise Leithauser is a neophyte writer in New York City in 1953. Luckily, her boyfriend, Joe, is the co-founder of a hip, new literary magazine, and through this connection, she rubs elbows with the likes of Truman Capote and James Baldwin and even scores an interview with “Papa” Hemingway.

Louise tries to hide her past as a waitress and her lower-class family background, but it turns out that some of her literary friends have much worse things to hide. When she overhears a conversation, implying that certain editors are involved in some skullduggery with the CIA and FBI, she finds she can trust no one. With a brother missing in Korea, Louise has already begun to question the U.S. government’s role in international conflicts. The only way she can make sense of the situation is through writing what appears to be no more than a silly romance novel about a woman on the moon. But she soon realizes her book contains “things I didn’t even know I was writing about until I’d written them.”

Both the suspense and the tongue-in-cheek, Hitchcockian tone propel events forward. The fact that the plot is inspired by “the true story of the CIA’s use of American arts and letters as propaganda during the Cold War,” as Woods explains in her author’s note, makes the book even more fascinating.