Book Review: Big Swiss
In the Ottessa Moshfegh tradition of severely messed-up female protagonists, Beagin gives us 45-year-old Greta, a former pharm tech with a recently broken engagement whose current job it is to transcribe the sessions of a sex coach – and we’re not talking about a serious therapist here: Om is, as the name suggests, a New Age amateur who is still consulted by lots of folk, thus granting Greta access to numerous potentially compromising secrets of the people living around her in Hudson, New York. Listening to a series of recordings, Greta is increasingly fascinated by Om’s new patient Flavia, whom she privately calls “Big Swiss” (as Flavia is a tall Swiss woman), a 28-year-old married gynecologist who never had an orgasm. When the two meet at the dog park and Greta recognizes Flavia’s voice, the women start an affair – but of course, Flavia can’t know that Greta is aware of all of her trauma due to her being the one transcribing Om’s sessions…
The women at the center of the text are both hanging on by a thread due to past trauma they haven’t overcome: Flavia was severely assaulted by a man, and Greta has repressed memories relating to her mother’s suicide that occurred when she was only 13 years old. Their relationship is doomed for several reasons, and what propels the story forward is the question when the women will reach the point at which they will finally be unable to escape their demons. The witty dialogue (quite a few chapters mainly consist of transcribed therapy sessions) and quirky characters take away from the heavy subject matter and give the text a light-hearted feel that was probably the main reason for the novel being turned into an HBO series that is supposed to premier this year.
Still, the fact that the serious themes are often released with a copious amount of gallows humor does not render the text harmless: Flavia and Greta suffer, and while we learn about Flavia’s past very early on, the details of Greta’s backstory are only revealed at the very end. The fact that she decides to live in a decrepit old Dutch house with her roommate Sabine is a clear gothic hint at her inner world though: Her mind is crumbling, she lives devoid of comfort. The women mirror each other in certain respects and take different roles, the ghosts they haunt start to appear inside and outside their minds.
I have to admit though that the ending felt slightly anticlimactic, and it came too abruptly. Sure, some metaphors are heavy-handed (a shard of glass in a foot? come on), some twists appear far-fetched. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the smart writing, the fast one-liners, the overall concept, as well as the unusual female characters.
publishedDate : 2023-02-09
authors : Jen Beagin
publishers : Faber & Faber
pageCount : 304
Big Swiss: Beagin, Jen: 9781982153083: Amazon.com: Books
Big Swiss is a comic novel, but it is one with a very tender core.” — Vogue, Most Anticipated Books of 2023 “Beagin may have found the best vehicle yet for her nihilist whimsy.” — Entertainment Weekly, Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2023 “Weird and horny and unfettered in all the best ways.”