Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (4 stars)

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Below is my impression of the book, which is meant to be interpreted as only my opinion and does not reflect that of the author or the publisher or NetGalley.

I have minor gripes about this book that I can’t really be too passionate about because the superb writing took the wind out of my sails. That is exactly how I want a book to make me feel. I want a book to leave me feeling changed, for better or worse, after reading it. I don’t expect this to occur with every book I read because statistically speaking there are so many books to read and we all have different tastes so they all cannot impact each of us in the same way. This was one that moved me.

One of my minor gripes is that I didn’t like that not all of the foreign words were translated. It was a hinderance to try and translate or define a word so that I could keep reading. Even with that minor annoyance, somewhat like a mosquito waiting to strike, I was so drawn into the story and the characters that I was able to ignore it, mostly. (Ah hat tipping to the author).

Another gripe I had was not enjoying that the main character was in a number of affairs. I have run the gamut on many different relationship models (single, married, divorced, monogamous, poly, straight, gay, bi). Of all of the various ways that we can relate to one another my least favorite is when someone cheats. I have done it myself to others and no one wins. It may be fun or a distraction for awhile, but all in all it pretty much sucks. It ends up feeling like less than a relationship when in other circumstances it may have bloomed and been a wonderful relationship.

Cheating is selfish and hurtful. It says I won’t give you a choice who I sleep with, I’ll just do it and not tell you. It really hurts when you are the one who didn’t know until much too late. I’ve also been the transgressor. It’s weird but some relationships I have had in the past didn’t result in the desire to see other people. Others I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I was married I felt I had to kill that part inside me that made me yearn for the comfort of others. I did basically put myself in lock down by isolating myself from everyone to only focus on me and my husband. I have to tell you, this is not healthy and its a sign the relationship is not safe.

Eventually, once I was head over heels invested in finding out what in the world would become of the hot mess of a main character, nothing mattered but reading the story. I shared my personal history because I wanted it to be known I could identify with the subject matter. The writing captures the madness, excitement, fear, pain and loneliness that comes from cheating on someone.

I didn’t like how powerless the main character seemed and it made me sad for her. Which means job well done author. Your 2D character was 3D and bleeding before me as I read this all too common tragedy. I don’t know the hours, days, weeks, months or years of sweat and tears that went into this book, but I could feel the effort and intelligence of the author as I read. It is hard to take the raw messy side of life and not sugar coat it to make it easier to swallow. I called the subject “all too common” but even so that makes it harder.

The emotions and events around a textbook case are hard to be made convincing. This book does a whole lot of show and little tell. That is a hard concept when writing to understand and master. Don’t tell me you are sad, paint a picture with words that makes me feel your sadness. This author nailed that on the head. I was helpless from the beginning as I was roped into this emotional roller coaster.

There were parts that interwove in an odd way where the past slipped into the present and slipped back into the past. I knew it was happening, but I would have liked a little more separation between the flow of the story. However, the author made a style choice to let it ebb and flow and not be rigidly conformed to many more short chapters just to split the time out into expected interruptions. Although I wouldn’t be so bold as to do this in my own writing and it tested my boundaries as a reader, I eventually fell into the rhythm and figured out sometimes you don’t need a chapter heading to tell you something different is about to occur. This served to give the story somewhat of an unbalanced feel which all in all was a good choice. A story like this is meant to make you feel unbalanced so that you can emotionally follow the journey. This reminded me of the style of writing in The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve.

The ending was almost too subtle, but at the same time it rang true with the story. Little bits throughout the book led up to the unwritten truth of what happened. I would be a bad reviewer if I explained these subtle hints and told you out and out the ending. That is a journey you must choose to follow and I wholeheartedly recommend giving this book a try.

I can say this, the way that Ira Levin built up to the understanding and horror at the end of Stepford Wives can be seen echoed in this book. If you have read Stepford Wives you will understand what I mean and will be intrigued to compare the foreshadowing in this book. Well, I at least I hope that you are, after all what fun is there in recommending a book without knowing it might spark your interest.


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