Book Review: Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Southern Lady Code gives us a peek into what it is to be a lady.
Imagine me crossing my legs daintily and lifting my teacup while saying “lady.”
I loved Helen Ellis’ previous book, American Housewife. It’s fictional short stories in which diminutive women are tougher than they appear. They are pure stone under those pretty chignons and ruffly skirts. These women are cold, calculating, supportive when they need to be, and capable of dirty things they have to keep secret because it could scare the crap out of the men in their lives.
Ellis delivers nonfiction essays this time, discussing what it’s like to be a proper southern woman living in New York. While it doesn’t have the same venom and bite of American Housewife, Southern Lady Code gives us more down-to-earth tips and tricks on surviving as a lady in a man’s world.
Some of the tips and observations here are hilarious. For example:
“And then came Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Or as I like to call it: “Surprise, You’re Still a Hoarder!”
Helen Ellis, Southern Lady Code
Yep. I’ve had that feeling.
The real-life wife portrayed here is a bit softer than the fictional one in American Housewife. A bit more compromising, sometimes old-fashionedly so. She urges us to incorporate the football foam finger into lovemaking on Superbowl Sunday and tells us what it is to be properly put together.
But the life portrayed here, while not perfect, while full of little divots that interrupt a smooth life of domestic bliss, is nonetheless content. Happy.
I may be a bit biased in Ellis’ favor, though. I am a grandchild of a proper southern lady.
My Grandmere, Rubye, was a force. She sold mass amounts of Tupperware and attended Eastern Star meetings in formal dresses she sewed herself. Every week, she’d visit her hairdresser to have her hair set, then sleep carefully in a pink hairnet for the rest of the week to maintain her “˜do. When my sister and I visited her in the summers, she’d re-enact Sleeping Beauty with us over and over, letting us be the beauties and she the prince who galumps in on his horse, reviving us with kisses to our cheeks.
Even two years after her death, I find myself facing the grief of missing her in odd moments. I’ll drive past the best flower shop in town and remember the time we went there, flower shopping for my wedding. The owner told us they only saw people by appointment. Grandmere straightened in her chair, raised her eyebrows, and said, “Well, what do you do if someone needs flowers for a funeral? Force them to make an appointment?”
Almost legendary is a story from her days as a young mother. Her baby was screaming in the backseat and her car broke down at the stoplight. When the man in the car behind her began honking incessantly, she marched up to his window and informed him that she would be happy to lean on his horn for him if he would go fix her car.
She was the best at guiding us in summertime crafts, taking the long route to find the perfect roadside watermelon vendor, and playing along gamingly with my flights of little girl fancy.
Southern ladies live on. And they are fabulous.
Many thanks for Netgalley and Doubleday Books for providing an advance e-reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
Southern Lady Code
Published April 2019