Set in Switzerland (Who doesn't love the Swiss?) it details the life of a housewife (thus the title) named Anna who seems to sleepwalk through life with her husband, Bruno Benz.
If he's any relation to the automobile Benz's, it's not apparent. And the primary mode of transportation in the book are trains. Pay attention to the trains. They begin and end the book like, well, bookends.
The Benz family is well off with three children and should, by most measures, be happy. Or at least content. But the family, the friends, the social fabric is harboring a major problem, most of it related to hausfrau Anna.
The book has received mixed reviews, perhaps because of its dreamlike quality. It might also be getting some thumbs-down assessments because Anna has a weakness for men - other than her husband.
A New York Times review by Janet Maslin was particularly savage:
"Here’s a sampling of Ms. Essbaum’s prose, which can have all
the charm of a sink full of dishwater: “Anna examined herself in the mirror.
She was neither too tall nor too short, neither too fat nor too thin. Her hair fell in easy but shaggy shoulder-length waves. It was the color of top dirt and it was graying around her forehead (she dyed it). What do they see in me, men?
She wasn’t being modest. She truly didn’t know.”
The charm of a sink full of dishwater? Kee-rist, Janet Maslin, I would use the paragraph you hate in a creative writing seminar as an example of excellent prose. Perhaps it's because Ms. Essbaum is best known as an award-winning poet, that has Maslin's knickers so twisted.
The unraveling of Anna's life is difficult to watch, but irresistible. Yes, it's exactly like watching a slow-motion train wreck, if I can be allowed to drag out the train metaphor one more time.
|Jill Alexander Essbaum|
There are also plenty of sometimes unnerving cross-cultural, social, psychological and language-based threads scattered through the book. They keep the plot moving briskly while the reader is lulled into thinking things are not really changing all that much. They are.
An intriguing book worth reading. But if a few sex scenes or issues of adulterous behavior bother you, don't dive into it.
On the bookshelves of the Watkins Glen Public Library. Hausfrau is also available online and in audiobook format.