Jill Alexander Essbaum
Random House, 2015
320 pages (hardcover)
Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno–a banker–and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zurich. 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 with an ease that surprises even her.
But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds that it’s difficult. 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.
Intimate, intense, and written with the precision of a Swiss Army Knife, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s debut novel is an unforgettable story of marriage, fidelity, sex, morality, and, most especially, self. Navigating the lines between lust and love, guilt and shame, excuses and reasons, Anna Benz is an electrifying heroine whose passions and choices readers will debate with recognition and fury. Her story reveals, with honesty and great beauty, how we create ourselves, how we lose ourselves–and the sometimes disastrous choices we make to find ourselves.
–Description from Publisher
“Anna was a good wife, mostly.”
Wow. Just wow. Not at all what I expected. The book originally caught my attention because of the cover. The abstract floweriness intrigued me. It appears so innocent.
The story is told sequentially with the occasional flashbacks. It’s an opportunity to see how Anna’s mind works. An event reminds her of something and she’s pulled back to that moment, then pulled back to the moment in progress. It can get a little confusing at times, especially when you get engrossed in a flashback, but not overly so.
The narrative is descriptive, but never gets bogged down. Anna’s actions propel the story at the right pace. Also, there is regular use of German and Schwiizerdutsch (Swiss German). It’s usually translated, and when it’s not the gist is understood due to context.
I enjoyed reading this book. Again it’s nothing like I was expecting, and it’s unlike anything I’ve read before. Anna describes herself as being “haphazardly moral,” but that’s for each reader to decide. Her motivations are different than most and lead her down an astonishing path.
This would make a great book club book as they are many elements to discuss.