Hausfrau1

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

So begins Hausfrau, the steamy debut novel from poet Jill Alexander Essbaum. Good wives, in general, don’t make for great books. Complicated, tortured, and dramatic ones do. See Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina.

Like her literary predecessors, this Anna is a bored housewife. She has followed her Swiss husband to the suburbs of Zurich, a place that feels nothing like home. And though she has her three children to care for, she feels detached even from them and often surrenders them to her disapproving mother-in-law.

Instead, Anna turns to three things: daily German classes, intense Jungian psychoanalysis with a terrifying sounding woman named Doktor Messerli, and a series of affairs: some meaningless, some less so.

It takes place in 2006, so it’s a little unclear why the modern Anna has given up so much of her independence to her husband (she doesn’t even have access to a bank account!).

Still, there’s a reason this kind of character is so intriguing, and Essbaum’s take is fresh and lyrically drawn. Anna may not be a likable heroine, but she’s definitely one who got our attention.

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