With a lot of hilarious insights and the fortitude to withstand the outrageous audacities that life and parenthood throw at you, Nicole Chaison lives The Passion of the Hausfrau. She’s got a great sense of humor, which goes without saying, of course, which is best demonstrated from the very beginning of the book, in which the author learns, via an awkward present from her own mother, that a former high-school classmate has written a book.
Not just any book, and not just any former classmate. The book is, as Chaison points out many, many times in her book, Romo: My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons by football player Bill Romanowski with Adam Schefter and Phil Towle. How did that book inspire The Passion of the Hausfrau? Chaison has wanted to write one of her own for years, and if everyone else is getting to do it, why hasn’t she? That’s the impetus, and it’s a good one, because it keeps her hilariously charged up and righteously angry (but in a good way) throughout most of the book.
Chaison tackles all the tough questions of motherhood, starting with pregnancy and then delivery. That Chaison herself has a very awkward and idiosyncratic relationship with her mother informs many of her own decisions regarding parenthood; her desire to be unique, young, and hip while raising two kids also plays into it. That The Passion of the Hausfrau never devolves into boring poor-me angst or saccharine-sweet schmaltz is a tribute to Chaison’s cynicism (again, in a good way) and biting wit. Because she never gets too sentimental, she’s able to make this book, her memoir of “Motherhood, Illuminated,” work well.
The format of the book is interesting as well, seeing as it’s a melding of prose and comics. Calling it a comic is not exactly right, either. Spot illustrations tend to flesh out the situations that have been described more thoroughly in the prose. The illustrations are sometimes sequential, sometimes not, so even the most basic definition of what constitutes a comic doesn’t quite apply. Since the book is also heavily footnoted, getting the complete story involves a series of jumps from one spot to another. The prose breaks oddly on every page (apparently to keep the prose from getting too far ahead of the footnotes and illustrations that go along with it), often leaving lots of white space. No matter. This is all part of the inherent design of the book.
As such, The Passion of the Hausfrau is probably not going to win new converts to the comics format. Instead, it fits well into the new way of thinking from so many readers today: That whether it’s prose or comic, it’s a book, and either way is a fine way of telling a story.
Reviewed by John Hogan on June 16, 2009
The Passion of the Hausfrau