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The Future Homemakers of America    by Laurie Graham order for
Future Homemakers of America
by Laurie Graham
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Future Homemakers of America follows a group of American women from their time as air force wives stationed at USAF Drampton in Norfolk, England in the 1950s through life experiences that scattered them in body but did not dilute their friendship. An Englishwoman named Kath Pharaoh becomes an important addition to a group bonded by common experience at a significant time in their lives.

The title comes from Betty's background as high school President of the Future Homemakers, 'stuffing toy bears for needy children and selling lunch-boxes for Healthful Living Week.' Betty is sweet and sincere; she has a passionate interest in British royalty and an abusive husband. She is an old acquaintance of the narrator, Peggy Dewey (ex-captain of the softball team in the same high school), and their friendship has evolved through common circumstances as 'Bomber Wing wives' with small children in tow.

Lois likes to have a good time and stir things up. Gayle is young, naive and prone to dive into a bottle under stress. Audrey is the professional officer's wife. On an outing to watch the passing of King George's funeral train, they befriend Kath. She and John Pharaoh live in a 'sway-back house' with an outhouse behind it; there is something odd about John, who can't seem to hold down a regular job, but catches eels for a living (a mystery only fully resolved towards the end of the novel). Peggy teaches Kath to drive and so changes the course of her life.

The wives are transferred; there is tragedy and divorce, problems with spouses and children. Life moves on, but they keep in touch with each other and with Kath - Peggy, who has 'a gift for friendship' at the center of this network. What I liked about the story is that these are ordinary folk, who make recipes (included in the book) like 'Betty's Best-Ever Brownies'. Though they get into some odd situations, as in Gayle's involvement with television evangelists or Vern's business selling worms, these are not high flyers, but are bizarre in an ordinary way.

The Future Homemakers of America is an engaging, quirky tale of friendship between women across decades, through the 50s, 60s and 70s. Indeed they are more family than friends. The characters are engaging in their familiarity. I especially enjoyed Peggy's tolerant (though often bemused) and loving relationship with her own daughter, who rebels in the 60s and then develops an interest in taxidermy, before settling down.

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