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Hausfrau: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 17, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month for March 2015: You are quickly reminded while reading Hausfrau that Essbaum is first a poet. Her descriptions—from Anna's mundane trips through the market to her extracurricular erotic trysts—are laced with poetic precision. Anna, an American, has found herself living in her Swiss husband's world of suburban Zurich. We travel with her as she fumbles to live up to all it means to be a good wife, mother, and daughter-in-law while she searches to understand something more and, maybe, somehow, to disrupt the everyday monotony. Flashbacks to the memories Anna allows us, along with poignant glimpses into her regular counseling sessions, are the only clues we are given to try to piece together what is truly going on inside Anna's mind. Where Hausfrau really catches you off guard is in the complete journey you find yourself haven taken at the end. I quickly found myself captivated and unable to step away from Anna’s every day and as I read the last sentence of the book I was haunted. My thoughts travelled back through the story - the realizations settled in an amazement to all that had happened…and hadn't. Essbaum, in her crafting of Hausfrau, executes a story that's telling is just as artful as the story told… a quiet disruption that I still find myself thinking about weeks after reading. – Penny Mann
“A debut novel about Anna, a bored housewife who, like her Tolstoyan namesake, throws herself into a psychosexual journey of self-discovery and tragedy.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Sexy and insightful, this gorgeously written novel opens a window into one woman’s desperate soul.”—People
“Elegant . . . There is much to admire in [Jill Alexander] Essbaum’s intricately constructed, meticulously composed novel, including its virtuosic intercutting of past and present.”—Chicago Tribune
“For a first novelist, Essbaum is extraordinary because she is a poet. Her language is meticulous and resonant and daring.”—NPR’s Weekend Edition
“In Jill Alexander Essbaum’s promising novel, we meet Anna Benz, an increasingly desperate American housewife and mother of three in her late thirties, positively brimming with ennui. . . . We’re in literary territory as familiar as Anna’s name, but Essbaum makes it fresh with sharp prose and psychological insight.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“This marvelously quiet book is psychologically complex and deeply intimate—as sexy as it is sad. . . . Though Anna, as heroine, has literary precedent, Essbaum has gracefully combined the mundane of the familial, graphic sex scenes, linguistics lessons and precise passages of psychological expertise into something utterly original. Essbaum has written one of the smartest novels in recent memory.”—The Dallas Morning News
“Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poignant, shocking debut novel rivets.”—Us Weekly
“A powerful, lyrical novel . . . Hausfrau boasts taut pacing and melodrama, but also a fully realized heroine as love-hateable as Emma Bovary and a poet’s fascination with language. . . . The beauty of Hausfrau, however, is the freshness it brings to a trope seemingly beaten into the ground. . . . In Anna, we don’t see a sinfully passionate naif throwing her life away on a doomed quest for love, à la Bovary or Karenina. Such a parallel hardly seems possible in these liberal modern times when divorce is common and premarital sex expected. But the numbed, uncertain person at the heart of Hausfrau is uniquely compelling.”—The Huffington Post
“[Essbaum’s] first foray into fiction has already drawn references to Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. . . . But the self-alienation of the American wife of a Swiss banker, resulting in Jungian analysis and reckless serial adultery, feels more contemporary, subjective, and just plain funny than classical bourgeois ennui. Imagine Tom Perrotta’s American nowheresvilles swapped out for a tidy Zürich suburb, sprinkled liberally with sharp riffs on Swiss-German grammar and European hypocrisy.”—New York
“Hausfrau, a psychological trip about ‘a good wife, mostly’ who enters into a series of messy affairs and impulsive adventures, is brain-surgically constructed to fascinate you, entertain you, and then make you question what a life lived with meaning looks like—all with a sense of poetic discipline and introspection.”—Los Angeles Magazine
“Over a century after the publication of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, poet Essbaum proves in her debut novel that there is still plenty of psychic territory to cover in the story of ‘a good wife, mostly.’ . . . The realism of Anna’s dilemmas and the precise construction of the novel are marvels of the form. . . . This novel is masterly as it moves toward its own inescapable ending, and Anna is likely to provoke strong feelings in readers well after the final page.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Anna’s] story will fascinate and thrill the most modern readers, even if you don’t agree with her decisions.”—Bustle
“Hausfrau packs romance, sex, and infidelity into the story about a woman searching for meaning in her life.”—PopSugar
“In Anna Benz, Essbaum has created a genuine, complex woman whose journey—no matter how dark it may be—reveals truths as only great literature can. She may have her roots in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Flaubert’s Emma Bovary or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, but she is a thoroughly modern and distinct character. Hausfrau is not just an exceptional first novel, it is an extraordinary novel—period.”—Shelf Awareness
“[Essbaum’s protagonist] shares more than her name with that classic adulteress, Anna Karenina, but Essbaum has given a deft, modern facelift to the timeless story of a troubled marriage and tragic love in this seductive first novel.”—Booklist
“With an elegance, precision, and surehandedness that recalls Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, Jill Alexander Essbaum gives us this exquisite tale of an expatriate American wife living in Switzerland and her sexual and psychic unraveling. Hausfrau stuns with its confidence and severe beauty, its cascading insights into the nature of secrets, the urgency of compulsion and the difficulty of freedom. This is a rare and remarkable debut.”—Janet Fitch, #1 New York Times bestselling author of White Oleander
“I was mesmerized by this book. Hausfrau creates a complete, engrossing, and particular world where nothing is as easy as it should be, according to the hopeful stories we tell ourselves. It’s a corrective novel, taking character, destiny, and our choices as seriously as a novelist can.”—Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?
“I loved this brilliant, insightful, and devastating novel about Anna: trains . . . adultery . . . the punctual, rigid Swiss . . . Jungian analysis . . . anhedonia . . . more adultery and more trains . . . and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s beautiful sentences strewn with sharp thorns that prick and cut straight into the heart of a woman’s unfulfilled life. I wish I had written it.”—Lily Tuck, National Book Award–winning author of The News from Paraguay
“A stunningly written, hauntingly paced book. Anna Benz has the weight of a classic heroine—isolated yet crowded—but she is utterly modern in Jill Alexander Essbaum’s hands. ReadingHausfrau is like staring at a painting that simultaneously seduces and disturbs. Even when you want to turn away, you find your feet are planted to the floor.”—Sloane Crosley, author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake
“Hot damn, is Hausfrau a beautiful, heart-wrenching novel. It casts a spell that doesn’t stop working until that wonderful final line. Jill Alexander Essbaum has a seismic talent, and it shows on every page of her first novel. Just read this bad boy. Like right now.”—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
“This debut brilliantly chronicles a woman’s life falling apart.”—The Times (U.K.)
“Uncompromising . . . [a] seductive debut.”—The Guardian (U.K.)
“Riveting and shocking.”—Marie Claire (U.K.)
“The book that will have everyone talking.”—Cosmopolitan (U.K.)
“This slow-burning literary novel of marital disintegration will leave you in bits. It’s a bleak, but beautiful read, with echoes of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.”—Glamour (U.K.)
“This book is sheer sex and madness, written in one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever read.”—Bookriot
“Hausfrau is authentic in its depiction of a strikingly passive woman whose betrayals overwhelm her. There are distinct echoes of Anna Karenina. But it is the wordcraft, structure and restrained intimacy of this first novel that make it a standout.”—BBC
“[An] insightful and shocking portrait of a woman on the edge.”—Woman & Home (U.K.)
“With more than a passing resemblance to Anna Karenina . . . [Hausfrau will] be a book club winner.”—Stylist (U.K.)
“The ghost of Anna Karenina haunts the poet Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut, Hausfrau, about an American in Zürich with the perfect husband, perfect sons and perfect home; but she is far from the perfect wife.”—Harper’s Bazaar (U.K.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Why do I begin this review with a look at Emma and Anna? Largely because Anna Benz, a displaced American woman living in a Zurich suburb – married to a gorgeous Swiss banker named Bruno – is their legacy. Readers who are familiar with these two books will be richly rewarded with nods to these classics.
This is a mesmerizing book, one of the more psychologically astute books I’ve read. This Anna, on the surface, appears to have it all: the successful husband, three children, a beautiful home, the trappings of wealth. Yet she is curiously disconnected from life, a stranger in a strange land (she barely speaks the Swiss-German dialect that is required of her to fully participate in life). Snippets of sessions with her analyst, Doktor Messerli, tease out some of the underlying layers of this seemingly impenetrable woman.
Anna has affairs – lots of them – to fill up the empty hole inside her, skirting with discovery. Yet these affairs are devoid of the passion and emotional investment that one might expect from a novel that focuses on affairs – sometimes jarringly so.
Hausfrau veers into territory that its classic predecessors do not – the precision of words. Throughout the book, Anna queries Dr. Messerli on word meanings (Delusion vs. hallucination? Maze vs. labyrinth? Indifference vs. ambivalence? Secrecy vs. privacy?Read more ›
And yet–and yet!–I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I basically neglected my children for two straight days while I finished it. It wasn’t that I liked Anna. Honestly, she is fairly annoying most of the time: sullen, withdrawn, passive, and pessimistic. She continually takes on a helplessness she doesn’t have to. She is defeated before she even puts up a fight–and not for lack of insight, awareness, or ability. The woman is actually quite intelligent and clever. No, she most definitely could have made a better life for herself, but she is faithfully, determinedly married to her sadness.
But even though I wanted and expected more from Anna, I still loved her. I loved her because I understood her. I am also a hausfrau, married for nine years and with three young children. I know all too well the appeal of passivity, how easy it can be to let all of the obligations take over and fill your time. You lose control, you lose yourself, and somehow you end up taking the path of least resistance. You know it isn’t the “right” path, the healthy path. You aren’t happy taking it, but after the babies and the moves and the job searches and the cooking and the upkeep and the doctor’s visits and the school forms and the bills and the hours–the hours!–you spend caring for, entertaining, cleaning, comforting, refereeing, it can feel good, like a relief, to not fight, to let it all happen for you.Read more ›
"Her relationship with sex was a convoluted partnership that rose from both passivity and as unassailable desire to be distracted. And wanted. She wanted to be wanted."
Anna is lonely, bored, & unsatisfied ....living in a foreign country with her husband and three children. She does not drive, relying on public transportation or from her mother-in-law, who lives near by. Her husband Bruno is in the Banking business. Bruno is Swiss. Anna American. Bruno & Anna only moved to Switzerland because of Bruno's job transfer.
Anna is in analysis...and throughout the entire book, the reader is a 'fly-on-the-wall' listening in on the intimate 'patient/client' sessions. Doktor Messerli works with Anna to see her root problems.
During one of their early sessions, Doktor Messerli asks Anna:
"When you were a girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Anna gave a plaintive answer.
"Loved. Protected. Secure.". She knew that wasn't what the doctor meant.
The Doktor tried another approach.
"What did you study at university?"
Anna flushed. She didn't want to say.
"Home economics", Anna whispered.
"Hausfrau" is compulsively readable. An astutely imagine story ....the author opens a window into the mind of Anna...the sadness, the confusion, the pain, the circumstances.
Be warned...(rather, be reminded), you, the reader, are 'human'. Its normal to 'feel' erotic sensations. Reading about lustful-passionate-raw-intimate-sex between a man and a woman is bound to stimulate aspects of eros!
With luminous, fluid prose, Jill Alexander Essbaum invites us into the world of Anna Benz whose soul is battered.
Erotic moments, (because the sexual storytelling is hot), ....and a very sad story!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The sex wasn't interesting enough, the characters weren't likable enough, the endless psychotherapy interludes were bizarrely out-of-date and infuriatingly unhelpful, but the... Read morePublished 10 hours ago by Jane E. Mcgonigal
Love it! Always wondered how some minds work. Being lonely even when you are not alone.Published 1 day ago by Rachel
Expat Anna lives in beautiful Zurich with Bruno and her three children. The story follows her sexual liaisons with different men. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Dudley Ristow
Depressing! Too much of everything in this book, especially too many pages. In summary, bored irresponsible mother and wife cares little for anyone including herself. Read morePublished 12 days ago by Chh
I expected a far less serious book than this one - the cover and title don't do the author justice. With a deep knowledge of Switzerland, specifically Zurich, and expatriate... Read morePublished 27 days ago by AnneNYC