MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Excerpt from Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum X
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2015, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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1

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

It was mid-­afternoon, and the train she rode first wrenched then eased around a bend in the track before it pulled into Bahnhof Dietlikon at thirty-­four past the hour, as ever. It's not just an adage, it's an absolute fact: Swiss trains run on time. The S8 originated in Pfäffikon, a small town thirty kilometers away. From Pfäffikon, its route sliced upward along the shores of the Zürichsee, through Horgen on the lake's west bank, through Thalwil, through Kilchberg. Tiny towns in which tiny lives were led. From Pfäffikon, the train made sixteen stops before it reached Dietlikon, the tiny town in which Anna's own tiny life was led. Thus the ordinary fact of a train schedule modulated Anna's daily plans. Dietlikon's bus didn't run into the city. Taxicabs were expensive and impractical. And while the Benz family owned a car, Anna didn't drive. She did not have a license.

So her world was tightly circumscribed by the comings and goings of locomotives, by the willingness of Bruno, Anna's husband, or Ursula, Bruno's mother, to drive her places unreachable by bus, and by the engine of her own legs and what distance they could carry her, which was rarely as far as she'd have liked to go.

But Swiss trains really do run on time and Anna managed with minimal hassle. And she liked riding the trains; she found a lulling comfort in the way they rocked side to side as they moved forward.

Edith Hammer, another expatriate, once told Anna that there was only one reason the Swiss trains ever ran late.

"When someone jumps in front of one."

Frau Doktor Messerli asked Anna if she had ever considered or attempted suicide. "Yes," Anna admitted to the first question. And to the second, "Define 'attempt.'?"

Doktor Messerli was blond, small-­bodied, and of an ambiguous but late middle age. She saw clients in an office on Tritt­ligasse, a cobbled, lightly trafficked street just west of Zürich's art museum. She'd studied medical psychiatry in America but had received her analytic training at the Jung Institute in Küsnacht, a Zürich municipality not less than seven kilometers away. Swiss by birth, Doktor Messerli nonetheless spoke an impeccable, if heavily accented, English. Her w's masqueraded as v's and her vowels were as open and elongated as parabolic arches: Vhat dooo yooo sink, Anna? she'd often ask (usually when Anna was least likely to give an honest answer).

There was a television commercial that promoted a well-­known language school. In the ad, a novice naval radio operator is shown to his post by his commanding officer. Seconds into his watch the receiver pings. "Mayday! Mayday!" a markedly American voice grates through the speaker. "Can you hear us? We are sinking! We are sinking!" The operator pauses then leans toward his transmitter and replies, quite graciously, "Dis is dee Germ-­ahn Coast Guard." And then: "Vhat are yooo sinking about?"

Anna would invariably shrug a sluggard's shrug and speak the only words that seemed worth speaking. "I don't know."

Except, of course, Anna most always did.

It was a drizzly afternoon. Swiss weather is mutable, though rarely extreme in Kanton Zürich, and typically not in September. It was September, for Anna's sons had already returned to school. From the station Anna walked slowly the culpable half kilometer up Dietlikon's center street, lingering over shop windows, biding small bits of time. All postcoital euphorics had evaporated, and she was left with the reins of ennui, slack in her hand. This wasn't a feeling she was new to. It was often like this, a languor that dragged and jaded. The optometrist's on-­sale eyeglass display dulled her. She yawned at the Apotheke's pyramid of homeopathic remedies. The bin of discount dishtowels by the SPAR bored her nearly beyond repair.

Excerpted from Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Copyright © 2015 by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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