Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 Zürich. 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.
Essbaum’s Hausfrau is an exploration of womanhood, marriage, love, lust, and self. Anna is lost in her life. A mother and housewife, she doesn’t work and has two sons. Her marriage has lost it’s passion. Anna has no friends and can barely even speak the language of her husband. She knows no one beyond her husband and his family, and even they are still strangers to her even after years of marriage. In an attempt to find herself and to make a life for herself, she finds desperate passion in the lustful affairs she conducts with strange men. Anna experiences incredibles sexual awakening in her affairs, loosing herself in the pleasure that she cannot derive from her home life. She comes to understand herself, her needs, and her wants throughout the book, in a way that she doesn’t recognize in the first few pages.
Anna loses everything to her indiscretion. She is punished severely and receives no redemption. It is certainly not a happy ending. What’s worse is that as the reader, you can see it coming from a mile away, and yet, you can do nothing to help her. She remains on this self-destructive track in a way that makes you cringe and want to look away. But as the reader, I felt I wanted her to succeed. I wanted her to find happiness. She is in a period of exploration, trying to know herself and to build a life that has meaning in this place where she has nothing. But she becomes confident and careless in her exploits, making more daring decisions until she has nothing left.
What I loved about this book is how real and tangible Anna is. She makes bad decisions, life altering decisions, and she fails. Her decisions do not make her likeable, but they make her independent. She is seeking change and she desires to actually feel loved and wanted. She is only human. While I could not get on board with her lies and her deception, I felt like I could understand her in her unhappiness and her need to make a change.
This story questions what it means to be a housewife, a mother, a woman. What is expected of Anna in a marriage where there is no love left? What can she do if she cannot support herself? Where does one turn to when one has no one in the world? She has limited means, no connections, nearly nothing left in the world. Her actions question her moral character, but they also hint at her deep seeded unhappiness and discontent. Her actions also reflect her situation: trapped, lonely, and unsure.
I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. This one has left me a bit indecisive because it has elements that I really appreciated, but also characterization and plot that I found incredibly sad.