Book Review: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Random House

Summary:  Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of ZΓΌrich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.  
But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

It's not often that I spend time watching a character in film or books where I hope for the sweet relief of their death. The end of them. Where I think... know it will be better for all involved here when they are no more. In film, I felt that way about Susannah Ludlow in Legends of the Fall (when she finally put that bullet into her brain, I was as relieved as I was happy that I didn't have to abide with her any longer) and now she has a sister in Anna Benz, here.

I'm not going to spoil the things that happen here but I can say undoubtedly that this was the most uncomfortable existence I've endured with a character in some time. It was claustrophobic in a way that will bother me for the next weelk I'm sure and will recess but niggle at my mind occasionally for many months to come. I'm not happy about that but such is the price for reading this kind of story. Anna was exhausting and I admit to never having understood exactly where her neurotic self sprang from. I get her boredom but I just couldn't understand what I can see as nothing but refusal to do anything to operate in her own self-interest for her own actual benefit to resolve her state of boredom. She languished in it. Wore it like sable one minute and sackcloth and ashes the next. Her relationships that could have been meaningful, weren't to her and were left to moulder. The affairs she had to shake herself out of her long tenure of ennui served to only be meaningless, empty & to further give her something to feel badly about (when she had a moment of self-reflection at all). While I liked her interactions with Doktor Messerli, I never knew when Anna was telling the truth, if the dreams she related were real or another lie in a her deck of them or why she went to these things at all since she wasn't forthcoming or much looking to be helped. She certainly had no interest in helping herself or helping her doctor help her to. Anna crosses a line with one of her children that's so replete with cravenness that I'm still astonished. The narcissistic idea that she'd got the cuckold over on her husband, Bruno was also staggering. Her children seemed to be forgotten happenstances and certainly not entities with any purpose outside of things Anna has collected along the way. I won't speak of her friends because really, she hadn't any. Not truly. When the life she's constructed collapses in on itself and takes her down with it, I was relieved. I hadn't anything left to feel badly for her plight or cheer at her undoing. I was just glad when it was all over. Or more correctly, coming to an end.

The supporting characters are terribly well drawn but they don't need to be to have it conveyed how they rank and rate in Anna's mind and life. We can't know them deeply because Anna's only been interested in them in a superficial way. The one person she pines for the majority of the book isn't even active in the story until the very end and only via telephone call. The interaction serves it's purpose very well and just underscores the sad state Anna's created for herself and existed in. It's an isolationists tale.

I'd recommend this book but I don't know to whom exactly. Literary fiction can be a tricky thing and the reading of it can resonate or not more or less based on what any given reader is bringing to it. Still, I think it was wonderfully written. Vivid and at times, lyrical. I found it a quick read (not quite two days & I was up late reading to only stop when my tablet complained of low battery & needing a charge). It infiltrated my dreams and I take that as worthy. I have definitely added Jill Alexander Essbaum to my list of authors I actively seek out.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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