BOOK REVIEW | Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Anna was a good wife, mostly.

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.

My thoughts:
The problem wasn’t that her bucket was empty, the problem was that it was full. So full it overbrimmed. So full and so heavy. Anna wasn’t strong enough to carry it.

Hausfrau really blew me away. I went into it knowing the basics: a modern day Anna Karenina or Madam Bovary about a woman who is dissatisfied in her marriage and has affairs to pass the boredom. I thought it would be a quick read without much depth. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Oh the surface, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel comes off as a typical story about a stay at home mom. Anna Benz has a beautiful life – a husband who provides for her and her 3 children, a nice home, nice clothes, and anything else she needs. Anna, however, is unhappy. She goes to therapy and undergoes much Jungian analysis to get to the root of her apathy, and her therapist often tells her “a bored woman is a dangerous woman”. While I disliked this phrasing, it proved true for Anna.

Anna has many, explicitly detailed, affairs throughout the story. We quickly learn that this is her drug of choice and coping mechanism, and it become clear she has lost control. In a heartbreaking affair scene, Anna internally cries out for her husband, whose attention she wants more than anything. All of this leads to startling revelations and a truly tragic turn of events.

Pain is the proof of life. That’s it’s purpose.

This book will not satisfy everyone’s taste, and I can see many readers being infuriated with Anna’s carelessness. I certainly felt this way for the first third of the book. However, there is a shift, and as I started to realize how far gone Anna was, I was able to find a place of empathy. Anna makes terrible decisions that result in terrible consequences, and I feel incredibly uneasy with how certain elements came to a close. However, this book ignited many strong opinions and gave me a lot to think about, and that is always a win for me.

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