There’s a narrative in history and in literature that relinquishes the soul of a bored woman. The woman who has settled into marriage, kids, and finds herself uninteresting. When my husband was in the Army and deployed to Iraq it was in the faces of the young women left behind. For a woman in her youth to be left alone, to be dismissed without attention and left to the banalities of everyday life is suspect to cruelty. The further assumption that she will not look for comfort, affirmation, and even joy in someone else is a vain one to make and one that is only upheld by long standing moral parameters that leave women in tight corridors of the mind that threaten collapse on either side.
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum is a lyrical study of Anna Benz. She is a wife, a mother, and her aloneness in life is exacerbated by living in a foreign country with her banker husband who has left her to raise the children while he works and she grocery shops. She takes a lover who is a pyrologist, one who studies fire. This lover can never truly be hers, though, her fire burns much hotter. The pyrologist leaves at some point and we get to know Anna in the aftermath of that affair.
Essbaum is the author of several collections of poetry and this is evident in the way she crafts Anna Benz. There is place that reflects Anna’s sadness; there are symbols and metaphors in her life that carry the narrative in a poetic grace. What matters often in life is in the mind and it is the mind that drives the action in this novel. This style reminded me of reading Virginia Woolf, a female centric stream of consciousness that lets the reader in on the ‘why’ of another’s life. Hausfrau is not a happy ending book, but it is a study of internal female dialogue that ultimately extinguishes the soul of a bored woman.