Misery by Stephen King

MiseryMisery by Stephen King
Published by Signet

From the publisher:

Paul Sheldon. He’s a bestselling novelist who has finally met his biggest fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house. Now Annie wants Paul to write his greatest work—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an ax. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty…

I read this for the Misery Read-along (#MiseryRAL) because I was looking to read another King novel after being pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Mr. Mercedes. I’m thinking I’ll need to keep reading King, because I see how good he is at the creep factor, but I didn’t love this book anywhere near as much as my first experience with his work.

Paul Sheldon was not a character I liked. At all. Sure, I felt bad for the guy, and a part of me hoped he would end up okay after all of this, but for some reason I didn’t connect with his character so I couldn’t quite care about him at the level I probably should have. He just seemed like kind of an asshole before Annie came into his life – the snippets he told the reader about his life showed me that he wasn’t the kind of guy I’d want to befriend – so I don’t know, I didn’t quite get there with him.

Annie was batshit crazy and the best part of the book for me, by far. Her insanity was at a whole other level, and King definitely kept me on my toes with her behavior. I never knew what she would do next, but I was sure it would be more terrible than the last thing she did. Just the fact that I knew she was in the same house as Paul kept that ominous feeling going throughout the book and I loved feeling like maybe something crazy will happen, or maybe she’ll just give Paul some more medicine and go to sleep. It was an emotional roller coaster in the best way.

Some of the things that happened were a little much for me with the gross factor (tractor!) but I expected that and was able to handle it. Also, it took me quite a while to get into the book – I felt the first half was pretty slow, especially given the high expectation I had for King’s stuff to pull me in. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of the story within the story thing (and based on what I read of that story I didn’t find Paul Sheldon to be all that talented of an author, which annoyed me).

But those things aside, I can see King’s talent and I appreciate what he did with Misery. The creep (oogy?) factor was totally there and the way he crafted this character of Annie was pretty incredible. Not my favorite King (of the only two I’ve read, haha), but I’ll keep reading more for sure.

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

The Precious OneThe Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by William Morrow & Company

Taisy Cleary has spent her life loving a man who has never loved her back: Wilson Cleary, her father. It has been seventeen years since he left Taisy, her mother, and brother Marcus for Caroline, a much younger woman, and Taisy has seen him once in all of that time. Out of nowhere, Wilson calls Taisy and asks her to spend time with him and the teenage sister, Willow, Taisy doesn’t even know – a sister who hates Taisy on sight. For Willow’s part, she and her father have always had a perfect, loving, happy relationship, and the sight of Taisy in her home threatens everything she’s ever felt sure of about her family and her life. As the two sisters slowly get to know one another, each are forced to look at their family with new eyes and decide for themselves what they really want and gain the courage necessary to reach for it.

I was so thrilled to see that de los Santos, one of my favorite authors, had a new book out. I was even MORE thrilled upon finishing it and absolutely loving every word she put on these pages. It is rare for me to read a book with two main characters and feel equally pulled to both of them, but that is exactly what happened here. Taisy broke my heart in many ways, she was wounded and raw from her father’s cruel ways, his poor treatment of she, her mother and her brother something she could never come to grips with even after so many years. Yet somehow, she remained an eternal optimist, convinced that Wilson couldn’t possibly be as awful as a person as her brother knew him to be, always holding out hope that he would come to his senses and seek a relationship with her one day, yet he continued to disappoint her, time and time again.

And Willow, a girl who seems on the outside to have the perfect life – great relationships with both parents, was given every opportunity to learn and become the kind of adult who would make a difference in the world, a child who knew with absolute certainty that she was loved more than anything else in her parents’ life – and yet, she suffered crushing jealousy at just the mention of her sister’s name. The growth of her character was such a joy to watch – she went from being an incredibly judgmental, sheltered child with plenty of opinions about things she didn’t even understand, to a grown-up, someone who was able to see the world for what it is and understand that people are complicated and relationships even more so. She became a person who understood that it was okay to become her authentic self and that if her father truly loved her, he would support her in doing that.

Reading this book was such a pleasure for me, mostly because I just loved watching Taisy and Willow as their relationship evolved from strangers to sisters, the kind of sisters who looked out for one another, who protected each other, who supported each other no matter what.

Truly, there’s so much about The Precious One I loved and I am so happy I got to experience de los Santos’ lovely writing and character building one more time. This was a perfect read for me and I loved every second of it.

The Daughter by Jane Shemilt

The Daughter: A NovelThe Daughter by Jane Shemilt
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Review copy provided by She Reads

While Jenny’s life is extremely busy with her career as a physician, twin sons Ed and Theo, and their younger sister Naomi, she couldn’t be happier with the path she and her husband Ted, a neurosurgeon, have chosen for their family and marriage. When fifteen-year-old Naomi disappears one night, seemingly leaving not a clue behind, Jenny is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her life, her children, and her ability to understand and take care of her family.

As I read this novel, I couldn’t help but get pulled in by the characters and the story Shemilt created. There is definitely a thriller-like aspect to The Daughter – what happened to Naomi is the central theme throughout the book and everything else kind of spins around that axis. I found myself furiously turning pages, desperate to find out Naomi’s whereabouts and hopeful that Jenny would get some answers and that her beautiful, young, smart daughter with so much ahead of her would come home safely.

While the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, and my initial response to the novel was that I enjoyed the ride it gave me, if I was a bit ambivalent of the some of the characters and their choices, after thinking about it some more I have to admit to feeling more lukewarm about the book. I think the major issue I have is that I don’t love the way Jenny was portrayed in the book. It’s a delicate balance for a writer to handle a working mother with respect and grace, and I think that in general Shemilt did an okay job with that, but I did feel somewhat uncomfortable by parts of the book. For one, Jenny goes from feeling extremely confident that she knows her children better than anyone to feeling extremely guilty about her work schedule and almost blaming herself and her decision to work full-time for Naomi’s disappearance. While I understand that working mothers go through complicated emotions about their choices (just as stay-at-home mothers do), the vast up-and-down of her emotions around work/life balance felt inauthentic to me.

Also there were a few points throughout the novel where it felt like outsiders were almost blaming Jenny’s choice to work for her daughter’s choices and ultimately her disappearance. What about Naomi’s father’s choices? What about the fact that Jenny was modeling how to have a successful career AND a family for her sons and daughter? I wished more mention of these aspects of a working parents’ life would have been in the book, instead it was all about the guilt Jenny felt and about the complete lack of guilt her husband felt (who worked a tremendous amount more than Jenny).

I’m also not sure how believable the ending was. What happened to Naomi is entirely possible, of course, but the way the whole thing came together just didn’t ring true for me.

What I did like was the way the story was told – Shemilt takes the reader back and forth from before and right after Naomi disappeared to a year or so later, in alternating chapters. Jenny narrates the whole thing, so you have a general idea of what happened to Naomi based on some things she says in the later portions, but it’s pretty ambiguous. The format definitely kept me on my toes. And I think Shemilt did a good job with the whodunit factor – I wasn’t sure what the heck was going on with this teenager and it could have gone a few different ways at a few points throughout the book.

While I had a few issues with The Daughter, I thought it was a decent thriller, one that at least kept me turning pages very quickly. I didn’t love it but I know others did so if this is your thing, give it a try and decide for yourself.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians #1)Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Published by Doubleday

Rachel Chu is mostly excited but a little nervous when her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, invites her to spend the summer with him and his family in Singapore. She thinks Nicholas might be The One, so it’s only natural to want his family to get to know her and vice versa. What she doesn’t know is that Nicholas comes from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore, he’s heir to a huge fortune, and his family is not going to accept him marrying an ABC (American Born Chinese). As Rachel gets to know the insanely rich family and friends that her boyfriend grew up with, she begins to question her place in his life – and wonders if she can ever fit in at all.

Can I start really quickly with a short discussion on the term “chick lit”? I am just going to put it out there that if Crazy Rich Asians was written by a woman, it would be deemed “chick lit” and therefore been brushed aside as too fluffy or silly by many readers (and critics). But since a man wrote this book, it’s funny and smart satire. Think about that for a second.

Anyway. The above comment does not mean I didn’t like the book – in fact, I REALLY liked the book. Crazy Rich Asians IS funny. It’s hysterical at times but also in the way that you know the things happening here are kind of true – satire is based in reality, of course. As I read the first fifty pages, I worried that I would have trouble keeping all of the characters straight – there are a lot of people in this book, and they’re all related somehow – but that didn’t end up being an issue. And I think the many characters contributed to my enjoyment of the book, because just at the exact moment I would start to be less enamored by a character and more annoyed, Kwan would switch to someone else. Although I have to admit that I’m not one hundred percent sure I have the family tree down in my brain – this cousin married so-and-so’s niece’s son, etc. Very confusing. But it was much less important to keep their relationships straight as it was to just know who was who and how they were related to Nick.

While the novel is really funny and is supposed to have that light tone throughout, there is a serious element to it and I was glad for that. I think without the depth the end of the novel brought, I would have liked the book a lot less. As it is, though, I thought the ending gave the novel the punch of reality it needed and absolutely gave me a reason to want to read the second book, which was just published the other day.

So I really liked Crazy Rich Asians!! While this wasn’t the kind of book I would have picked up on my own, the combination of great reviews I’d seen for the book and my friend’s urging helped me decide to read it. I can absolutely recommend Crazy Rich Asians and I really did have a lot of fun reading this novel.

My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

My Best EverythingMy Best Everything by Sarah Tomp
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lulu has just graduated high school and cannot wait for the summer to be over, when she’ll finally leave her small Virginia town for college. But her father springs some horrible news on her – he lost her tuition money so she has to wait another year to go away – and as she’s determined to get out no matter what, she comes up with a plan. With her best friends Roni and Bucky, she concocts a scheme to produce and sell moonshine. As things quickly get out of hand, she enlists another guy, Mason, whose family has been in the business for years. With Mason’s help, the four of them start making real money, and although Lulu begins having unexpected feelings for Mason, she starts getting truly excited that she’ll be able to leave town for good once the summer is over – if they can keep their business hidden until then.

My Best Everything was a quick read, one that has a lot of heart but also deals with a somewhat serious topic. The moonshine business is illegal, and what Lulu and her friends have decided to do for money can get all of them arrested and put in jail. There’s a sense of desperation about Lulu that I think a lot of teen readers will relate to – that feeling of NEEDING to escape high school, of being so beyond ready to see the world and get to college and just start your life – and I think Tomp portrayed this in-limbo time between high school and college really well. There’s a lot of discussion between Lulu, Roni, and Bucky about the future and what their plans are and the three of them range from knowing better things are in store for them as they grow up and get an education and move on with their lives, to feeling like their small town is the best they’ll ever do and so they should just stay put and start adulthood at eighteen. And the three of them go through different stages of feeling this way throughout the book, which I thought was true to life, very representative of what being eighteen feels like and looks like.

Something that I found interesting about My Best Everything is the way it’s written. It is in second person, with Lulu addressing someone as “you”, and we figure out early on that the person she’s writing to is Mason. This gives the book just a little bit of an anticipatory feeling, as the reader can’t help but wonder what becomes of their relationship, or if something really awful happened to Mason, which would cause Lulu to write this letter (or whatever it is) to him.

Ultimately I enjoyed My Best Everything but didn’t find it to be amazing. It was a good story, with a few elements that made it different from typical YA fare, but it was a really quick read and didn’t have a ton of substance to it. I think it will resonate better with younger readers than it did me, and as I said I think it would hit the sweet spot for those teens who feel like Lulu and are ready to get their adult lives started already. I think I’ve said this before, but I may just be getting too old for certain types of YA. This one falls into the category of like but not love for me.

Mini-Reviews: Recent Nonfiction Reads

Bad Feminist: EssaysBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Published by Harper Perennial

I wish I had the energy or motivation to write an entire post about this incredibly smart, challenging, and at times witty book of essays but I’m struggling to find the right words to gush about it. I loved Gay’s style of writing – it’s intensely personal but in a way that made me feel like I was chatting with a girlfriend (a highly intelligent girlfriend who motivated me to think more deeply about things). The essays here are about all sorts of things, almost all relating in some way to feminism, but some more loosely than others, and many having to do with racism and sexism and how the two intersect in ways that most people don’t realize or even care to consider. My favorite essay in the book, hands down, is one where Gay lists rules for how women should be while in friendships with other women. It’s brilliant and so true that I want to share it with every woman I know. If you’re at all interested in feminism, read this book. If you think feminism is not necessary, read this book. If you think racism and sexism are not things that happen anymore, read this book. Or if you just happen to be interested in good writing, read this book. Bad Feminist is great and I’m looking forward to more from Roxane Gay.

Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It MattersUnchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Published by Baker Books

The authors of this book did an extensive study on young people’s attitudes and beliefs about Christians. Not about Christianity itself, but Christians as people. The implications for what they learned – mainly that young people perceive Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, obsessed with politics and politicians that reflect their conservative beliefs – can have huge implications for the future of Christianity. IF the right people read this book, learn from it, and make changes. I agree with a lot of what Kinnaman and Lyons said here, and although I am a Christian I personally see a lot of what was reflected in the book and it doesn’t always make me feel good about calling myself a Christian. While I enjoyed reading this book, mostly because it confirmed for me a lot of things I already felt, I don’t see how it will make a difference because I just don’t anticipate that the people who need to read the book will actually read it. Church leaders who want to actively change the way Christians are perceived in the world should be reading Unchristian and doing something with the knowledge gleaned from it, but I just don’t see that happening. That being said, I think it’s a valuable read for those of us who try to represent Christ in the world while holding tight to a church that isn’t perceived to consistently do a great job of being Christ-like in its actions.

I Suck at Relationships So You Don't Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever AfterI Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever After by Bethenny Frankel
Published by Touchstone

The ONLY reason I read this book is because Bethenny Frankel wrote it. I have a slight obsession with her – I think she’s hilarious and smart, witty and incredibly tough, a person who doesn’t take shit from anyone but isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and have her heart broken (on TV, no less), and ultimately is the most genuinely real reality TV star out there (and I watch too much reality TV, so I have formed quite an opinion). Honestly this book was really silly and nothing that I could ever use or need in real life. But I appreciated her snark throughout and her attitude always puts a smile on my face. I can’t imagine anyone that would actually use this advice, but she’s sold tons of copies already so obviously those people are out there. I can’t say I really liked this one, but if you are a fan of Bethenny you’ll probably want to pick it up.

Where I’ve been in May (and holy crap it’s basically mid-June already?!)

Whew, haven’t checked in here for quite some time. May was busy and stressful for a few reasons, and it appears that so far June has been much the same way, which is why you haven’t seen me too much around here.

For starters, my grandmother passed away mid-May. She had been sick with dementia for many years and my father and stepmother had been taking care of her for the past two or three of those years. She ended up getting up in the middle of the night unassisted, falling, and needing surgery on her hip. Due to her age (90) and overall health, she never fully came out of surgery in any way that would suggest she could go on to live a normal life (unresponsive, open eyes and that’s it, etc.). My father had to make the extremely difficult decision to put her on hospice care, and she passed away after I think it was eight or nine days at the hospice facility.

Needless to say, it was an incredibly difficult time for my family. There are many issues within my father’s family and the level of drama and ugliness that occurred during this time was just really difficult for everyone to handle, myself included. I did travel home to Chicago a few days after she passed, and even with the difficulties within the family, I was able to see everyone I wanted to spend time with while there. The bonus was that although I had to travel for a shitty reason, I got to see my nieces and nephew on what I considered an “extra” occasion. I don’t know. It was hard and emotional and nothing about the time I was there was “fun” exactly but I was also so incredibly grateful to have that additional time with family. Does that make sense?

Anyway, the rest of May was busy too. We took my mother-in-law and hubby’s grandmother out for Mother’s day, which was really nice but also a long day – driving to Tampa and back from Orlando pretty much eats up an entire day. Work was basically a juggling act between myself and my assistant manager with taking time off – me for Chicago and her because she got some surprise news about her own family, and had to make a spur-of-the-moment trip out of the country the day after I got back from my trip. Lots of changes have been happening at work, too, which just leads to everyone feeling this undercurrent of stress that never really goes away and has been leaving me with an unsettled feeling for several months now. (Nothing bad, just things are changing. It’s different for us, and stuff we just need to grow up about and get used to.)

Let’s see, what else? June 4th was my 8-year anniversary being married to the best husband ever. He so very sweetly drove to my work and brought me flowers and a card in the middle of the day, and we celebrated the following Saturday with dinner at a nice steakhouse here in town (I had the most delicious sea bass EVER). Also, a friend who moved to New York about a year ago was visiting for the weekend and was at a bar very near where we had dinner that night, so we got to stop by and see him for a couple of hours before our dinner. That was a nice surprise.

This week has been full of stuff, too. Monday I had dinner with girlfriends, Tuesday I had dinner with other girlfriends, Wednesday after work was a chill staying at home night, and Thursday I had a five-hour doctor visit that I had to take off work to do (stress test, so not fun) and then a going away party for a co-worker who is moving to Seattle at night. Today I have a full day of work and book club at night. Saturday we’re going to Lakeridge Winery for the day for their Harvest Festival – something I’ve never been to but am excited to check out – and to Universal Studios at night for a concert (Huey Lewis and the News). Sunday my plan is to do NOTHING besides lay by the pool, read, and maybe throw a load of laundry in. Maybe.

I’ve been reading but not really writing. I’m reading Misery for #MiseryRAL and am already pretty creeped out. I just finished Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, a memoir by a Viennese hatmaker who escaped Vienna when the Nazis took over (recommended to me by one of my employees, and I liked it a lot), and am working my way through Americanah too (so good!). I just picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library along with a few others and am looking forward to diving into those soon. If I could just get my butt in gear to write reviews. I sense a bunch of mini-reviews coming your way soon. :)

Whew! Well I think that about catches things up. I’m looking forward to a more calm and happier June than what May ended up to be, and mid-July I have another trip planned to Chicago, this time for my nephew’s 2nd birthday.

I hope things are going well in your neck of the woods! I haven’t been reading blogs as much as I should be, so please tell me if I’ve missed anything important!

Monday Minis

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Feiwel & Friends

This is a pretty adorable fantasy featuring twelve-year-old September, who has been whisked away by a man called Green Wind to Fairyland, where she is tasked with finding a talisman and presenting it to the Marquess of Fairyland, and of course the fate of everyone in Fairyland rests in her completion of this one task. I liked this book and can totally see its appeal for adults and children. September is rather intuitive and mature for twelve, but she’s also believable for her age, as she’s pretty naive too. Valente is very smart with her prose, she’s not just taking the reader on a journey, she’s looking to draw out emotions too, and she definitely accomplishes that. I am not certain that fantasy is really my thing, though, because I had difficulty keeping track of all the characters and even connecting with them. I don’t know. I might read the next book, to see if that enhances the story for me, I might not.

Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

You guys know I’ll read anything Lauren Oliver writes, but I’ve been mildly disappointed with her most recent few novels. Vanishing Girls is my favorite of her books since Before I Fall – I thought it was pretty great, and brought me back to the Lauren Oliver I love – fantastic writing, characters that break your heart, and a story that you can’t put down. Vanishing Girls has it all.

In a nutshell, Nick and Dara are sisters and used to be best friends, until there was an accident that changed their relationship and scarred Dara’s beautiful face. On Dara’s birthday, she vanishes at the same time that a nine-year-old from their town disappears too, and Nick becomes determined to find them both. Oliver spends time inside the heads of both Nick and Dara, giving the reader a full picture of both girls and how their relationship was damaged so horribly after this accident. There’s plenty of twists and turns in this novel, tons of character development, really I couldn’t have asked for more. If you liked Before I Fall but haven’t been as enamored with Oliver’s recent novels, please pick up Vanishing Girls. It’s really, fantastically good.

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home RemediesLike Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

This is a magical novel about a Mexican family, the De la Garza’s, focusing mostly on the youngest daughter, Tita. Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, decides to stick with Mexican tradition and force Tita to stay home and take care of her into her old age – despite the fact that Tita has fallen in love and wants to get married. Mama Elena fixes Tita’s love interest up with Tita’s oldest sister, propelling this entire family into dramatics for years to come.

Magical realism isn’t quite something I always get, but I did like what Esquivel did with it here. What I loved most was how the emotions of the characters came out in the food Tita cooked – food was a metaphor for every crazy dramatic thing that happened in this family over the years. While I can’t say I fell in love with Like Water for Chocolate, I was definitely charmed by it and can recommend it for something a little different than what I typically read.

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Black BoyBlack Boy by Richard Wright
Published by HarperCollins

From the publisher:

Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a “drunkard,” hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.

Black Boy is Richard Wright’s powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.

I’ve had this book on my shelves for way too long, it’s one that I kept looking at, month after month and year after year, and telling myself how important of a book it is and that I HAVE to read it. Well, now I finally have, and of course I’m having that feeling of “why did I wait so long?”

To say that Black Boy is inspiring and powerful would be a huge understatement. Richard Wright grew up in the Jim Crow south, in a time and place when a black person simply looking at a white person the wrong way could cause them to be beaten or even killed. He grew up with parents who taught him that he wasn’t worthy of an education because of his race. He grew up being taught that reading was a waste of time, that learning wasn’t useful, and that to expect any more of himself than the poverty his family lived in would lead to disappointment.

Somehow, even with all of these forces against him, Wright decided from a young age that he would become more than his family believed he could be. He decided that, no matter what the cost, he would move out of the south, he would become successful, and he would never let someone tell him he was worthless again.

A lot of Black Boy is incredibly difficult to read. The suffering Wright and his family endured is beyond what most people can imagine. The cruelty and hatred that Wright and his family, and every other black person in that part of the country at that time, had to experience is beyond comprehension. It was certainly beyond my understanding before I read this book – it’s one thing to intellectually understand what Jim Crow meant to people, it’s a whole other thing to see it through the eyes of a child who experienced it first-hand. There’s not enough words to express what Wright went through: devastating, horrifying, soul-crushing, and many others come to mind.

But this is why Black Boy is an important book. There are people in the world, in this country, who don’t think racism is a problem. IT IS A PROBLEM. It is a thing, and continues to be a thing, and it’s systematic and has roots back to slavery (obviously) and Jim Crow laws and guys, it’s not over. Just because we elect a black president does not mean that racism has magically disappeared. Reading this book helped me gain a more clear understanding of just how deep-seated and entrenched in our foundation as a country and a society racism truly is. For this reason alone, everyone should read this book.

It’s also such an inspirational story. Wright made a decision that he was going to change his life, and he did that. It’s a testament to how powerful reading and education can be – because Wright could read, and was educated, he was able to do things with his life that many others in his situation could not have dreamed possible.

There’s so much to discuss about Black Boy, but really I would just highly encourage you to read it for yourself. This is an incredible memoir, one of the best I’ve read in a very long time, and such an important historical and cultural book. Highly, highly recommended.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House

From the publisher:

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back.

This book has been really polarizing among readers, and now that I’ve finished it myself, I can absolutely see why that has been the case. Let’s face it, Anna is not the kind of heroine most people root for. She loves her children, but she isn’t incredibly loving toward them – in fact, she can be distant at times, and at other times leaves them for long stretches of time with her mother-in-law. She keeps busy by taking German classes she doesn’t really enjoy and seeing a therapist several times a week. Oh, and let’s not sugarcoat the affairs. Anna has sex – LOTS of sex – with different men, on a regular basis. Some of her affairs are long-lasting, and others are short and sweet. This is obviously the thing about Anna most readers love to hate, because it’s of course disgraceful that a married woman would conduct herself in such a manner. (Let’s not even discuss the fact that if this was a married MAN we were talking about, it’d just be business as usual. But whatever.)

Anyway. While I was reading Hausfrau, and immediately upon finishing it, I didn’t like Anna much myself. She’s incredibly prickly and difficult for the reader to get to know. On the surface, it seems as though she doesn’t have much of a personality – it seems that her entire life’s purpose is to have as much sex, with men she’s not married to, as she can. But this book was one of those novels that crawled into my brain and wouldn’t go away until I spent more time thinking about it. So I did, I turned it over and over in my head until I could feel okay about what I read and my feelings about it. And that time I spent mulling it over led me to this – this book is actually kind of incredible in the way that the author manages to show the reader exactly what depression looks like, at least for this particular character, Anna.

You see, Anna suffers from chronic depression, the kind of debilitating depression that leads people to crawl in bed for days and weeks at a time, to neglect family and friends and self-care, to turn to drugs or alcohol or to hurt oneself or others. Anna did none of those things; instead, she had lots of sex. And each time, it made her feel a tiny bit better, and also a tiny bit worse, and just like someone addicted to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate depression, Anna’s addiction to sex as medication for her depression helped her at times but deeply hurt her in the long run.

I don’t believe I’ve ever read a novel that deals with depression to this degree. And I don’t know if all readers will even recognize what Anna is going through as depression – many readers just see her as an awful person who makes awful choices and therefore write her off as someone they might be able to understand, sympathize with, even have empathy for. But after spending a lot of time thinking about the book and about Anna, I get it. And I think what Essbaum did was kind of brilliant.

The ending was really tricky for me, and I am of two minds about it, but rather than include spoilers here, I’ll invite anyone who wants to discuss it to email me (please!). Also, the writing – Essbaum is an incredibly talented writer whose prose is gorgeous, almost too gorgeous for the tale she’s telling here. It was a bit much for me, honestly, but I can see the care she took in her writing and it’s definitely an important aspect of the novel overall.

So basically what I want to say is this – immediately after I finished the book I gave it 3 stars, and at this point I’m going with 4.5 or even 5 stars. The time I took to reflect upon Hausfrau really enhanced my appreciation for it, and I’m pretty impressed with what Essbaum did here. Do yourself a favor and pick it up so you can draw your own conclusions. But for me, this is fiction at it’s finest – the kind that makes you question your own initial reactions, the kind that makes you examine your own prejudices and beliefs, and the kind that does not let go long after you finish the novel. In a word, excellent.


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