Monday, February 16, 2015

Within the Vortex: Hausfrau a novel by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau is the first novel written by poet, Jill Alexander Essbaum. It is the interesting story of an expatriate American woman, Anna Benz who took the path of least resistance by marrying a steady as he goes Swiss banker, Bruno. Living in Zurich, Anna has not minded the feeling of being an outsider in the Swiss culture for ten years. In fact, she has not really mastered the Swiss language of her husband and her two young sons. She decides to take a German class (close to but not equal to Schwiizerdutsch) to improve her ability to speak at home and with acquaintances. In class, Anna realizes that her private self-talking English language is quite complex and nuanced compared to the language she uses with other ouslanders. Her secret life is reinforcing in the sense of a comforting solitude, and she protects it by playing a quiet non-reactive role in a barren play with her family and acquaintances.

But Anna discovers that life is not a play and solitude can satisfy many protective needs but not the most important social needs of a person. Meeting her sexual needs, for example, requires  secretive actions that are difficult given her mental game of isolation. Depression becomes a constant companion. Even her psychiatrist cannot break through the verbal walls to help her. No one speaks Anna’s language, and over the ten years living in Switzerland, the barriers to meaningful interaction slowly have become immutable.

What happens when you learn you have played the solitude game too long? Anna is a very intelligent and sensitive person who begins to look for a way out. Hausfrau is a very interesting character study that gives insight into the reader’s own conflicts between internal language and external social roles. It is unrelenting in the exploration of ineffectual imaginary defenses that are inevitably overcome by real circumstances. This is a very well-written and enjoyable contemporary novel.


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