RaeleighReads rating: 2 out of 5 coffee cups
“For even infants understand the rotten, instinctive truth: that no pain ever takes full leave of its person. That pain is greedy and doesn’t give ground. That a body remembers what hurts it and how. Old pains get swallowed by new pains. But newer pains always follow suit.”
When I first started this book I was very enthralled by the poetic language, and it’s no wonder because the author is an award-winning poet. A hundred pages in, however, the overwrought imagery began to take its toll.
This is a novel, not a collection of poetic images. Or, it was supposed to be. I thought.
And then there was the main character. Anna. Seriously!? First, I thought we were going to delve into her unraveling psyche, but Essbaum didn’t really go all the way there. While I enjoyed the almost-random asides between Anna and her analyst (Doctor Messerli), they were not developed enough to make the arc of Anna’s devolving mental health complete.
“”You do nothing in this dream that isn’t the commission of some sort of crime — theft, adultery, exhibition…”
Anna interrupted. “You can’t seriously judge someone against what she does in her sleep. I can’t help what I dream.”
“That’s not entirely true, Anna. What we dream, we are.”
Anna frowned. There was nothing of this conversation she liked.
Doktor Messerli didn’t pull her punch. “You recognize each consequence. You do the damage anyway. The dream is emphatic: you’re spinning out of control.””
Then, I thought maybe we would explore a modern day housewife narrative in which the woman can’t find happiness because reasons. But Anna didn’t have any reasons. Where was the motivation? What were the stakes? I mean, I still just don’t even know. What was the point of her? She had zero reasons to be unhappy. Even as a child she was apparently listless for no reason.
Was this Essbaum’s intention? To write about unhappiness that exists of its own accord? Can people really be suicidally unhappy without a reason? Maybe I just didn’t understand Anna’s reason(s)?
It has taken me weeks to begin writing this review because I was so supremely disappointed by the end of the book I didn’t even know where to begin.
I find the structure interesting — perhaps it parallels the increasingly chaotic nature of Anna’s existence. The writing is almost too well done. It tries too hard and does not add to the story. The language is frequently explicit, but I find that to be a nice dose of realism in an otherwise unbelievable story.
I don’t know guys, I just don’t know. Give it a whirl I guess? If nothing else it will exercise your brain. Whether the result is praise or rage though will largely depend on the person. As in all things.
I’m sorry this is supremely unhelpful.
Maybe this will help:
“I loved this brilliant, insightful, and devastating novel about Anna…trains…adultery…the punctual, rigid Swiss…Jungian analysis…anhedonia…more adultery and more trains…and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s beautiful sentences strewn with sharp thorns that prick and cut straight into the heart of a woman’s unfulfilled life. I wish I had written it.”–Lily Tuck, author of The News from Paraguay
“This was a very tedious book to read. I’m not even sure if the protagonist (no pro in her character) had a mental health issue or was just plain bored and incapable of seeing past herself and her boredom. If it had been boredom I was hoping for a bit of an epiphany or if it had been mental health issues an explanation of why from one of her many referenced psychotherapy sessions.”–KLL on Amazon