When I was in high school, I wanted to impress my lit teacher and my classmates and so, when we were assigned book reports (don’t you hate that phrase?), I chose a thick volume, Anna Karenina. My classmates groaned and wondered why anyone would choose a book like that. My teacher, a wonderful teacher, but not the most nurturing woman in the classroom, just looked at me like the snot-nosed smartypants I was. I was horrified when I finished the thick tome the weekend before the book report was due and read “End Volume I” on the last page. What? What? There had not been two volumes on our shelf (I attended a small rural high school). There was no volume I indicated on the spine or cover. What trickery was this? Shamefaced, I had to confess that I had only read half of this great novel when I returned to class on Monday without my book report. Because our library, indeed, did not own volume II, I had to ask my mother to take me to the library “in town” to check out the full novel so I could complete my assignment. And I had a lot of reading to do. After all of this, I was so pissed when she threw herself in front of the train. I was fifteen. How could I begin to understand Anna Karenina. Looking back, this is most likely the root cause of my teacher’s look when I showed her my choice.
So why, when I chose Hausfrau, which is set in modern Switzerland, and began hearing Anna relate her irritatingly unhappy existence, why, then, did I not see where this novel was going?
This novel by turns irritated and intrigued me. I could understand and yet not understand Anna, whose husband seemed cold, whose mother-in-law was disapproving if helpful, and who felt like an outsider in her own life. She lived inside her head too much, so much that only when she was having sex with near strangers did she step out of her head and into her body.
I wanted to slap Anna. I wanted to slap her psychoanalyst. And as I finally saw where this was going, I pleaded with Jill Nausbaum to take this story somewhere else, to not write a modern version of Anna Karenina. And then the end.
I need to re-read Anna Karenina. It is now on my list. I wish I could talk someone in my circle into reading this so we could discuss Anna and her actions–commiserate in our frustrations or convince one another of her deserving redemption.