For readers of Claire Messud and Mary Gaitskill comes a striking debut novel of marriage, fidelity, sex, and morality, featuring a fascinating heroine who struggles to live a life with meaning.
haus·frau \haus-frau\ n 1: Origin: German.
Housewife, homemaker. 2: A married woman. 3: A novel by jill alexander essbaum
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.
Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and most especially self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves and how we lose ourselves and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.
Advance praise for Hausfrau
“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 uses of erotic life and 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?
“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
“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.)
From the Hardcover edition.
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." But now, more than ever, it is clear that the conflict between the protagonist's desires and her "tightly circumscribed" world is her own doing, and not a result of social limitations. Anna Benz is an American expatriate and mother of three, married to Bruno, a Swiss banker. In her nine years of living in a tidy suburb of Zurich, Anna (whose name is a Tolstoy nod) has never gotten a driver's license, befriended other mothers, or learned Swiss German, the form of German spoken in Switzerland. Essbaum's story opens as Anna attempts to break through her ennui and engage with the world. She starts a course of Jungian analysis with the inimitable Doktor Messerli and finally enrolls in language classes. Still, she's drawn into a number of extramarital affairs that skirt the line between passion and passivity. In Essbaum's capable hands, Anna invites the reader's empathy rather than scorn. The realism of Anna's dilemmas and the precise construction of the novel are marvels of the form, and Essbaum chooses her words carefully. When her teacher lectures her on verb tenses, Anna wonders, "But how often is the past simple? Is the present ever perfect?" 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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
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This story is pointless, depressing, and unchanging from beginning to end.
Needles in my eyes!
I never ever write reviews. However this book was so God awful I simply had to. If you're considering buying this book please just don't! Run. Put your phone down. Go take a cold shower and rethink flushing your hard earned money down the pot. Nothing. Not one God forsaken thing about this book was good. Depressing plot, self loathing unlike able characters and no ending. Not even finality to this crappy story. Please. Just. Don't.
100 if not two pages too long. Repetitive, monotonous and Dull as depression. As much of a drag to read as it is to endure narcissistic obsession. Worth finishing for one reason only; gratitude & relief to move on. Am left with the bland taste of the protagonist Anna's selfishness and an irredeemable annoyance with myself for wasting my compassion, effort & time watching boring Anna suffer. Francesca