Hausfrau

Hausfrau: A Novel - Jill Alexander Essbaum

If Hausfrau was a painting it would be entitled "Woman with Empty Heart." It's the kind of character study that many people will utterly loathe, others will call a contrivance. A book that does not offer a sympathetic protagonist nor deliver any semblance of happy ending is one you won't want to haul to the beach with you this summer for pleasurable diversion. Hausfrau is an obvious modernization of a certain classic novel (or two), in which the main character of Anna feels herself adrift and unhappy in her life. So, she attempts to fill it with the usual banalities an attractive woman can muster: adorable children, handsome husband, a lover, another lover, another lover... Anna has no spiritual center to help anchor her, and worst of all, she is what I call a "sensationalist," that is, she believes that feelings - arbitrary chemical impulses - will guide her to contentment. If she'd only bothered to read Siddhartha, she might have realized her miscalculation. I found the story, on the whole, interesting, though occasionally the tone bordered on that of a Lifetime movie. The main issue I had with Jill Essbaum's novel is that I didn't feel that the character of Anna worked for me. What I mean is that her thoughts and motivations did not seem to arrive authentically and naturally in a manner that coalesced into this mess of a human being. There are many excellent books in which human messes do work for me; in fact, these are my favorite sorts of characters to read about. I'm wondering, and I'm certain Essbaum considered this, how the novel would have done with first person narration. Or did mirroring Tolstoy necessitate nixing that option? I hated the ending, but I expect it was the natural conclusion.