Book Review

Deborah Hauser, Ennui: From the Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders, Finishing Line Press, 2011

Reviewed by Richard Swanson

Droll, sly, hip, charming, witty—fun! Those and similar adjectives come to mind when turning the pages of Deborah Hauser’s chapbook Ennui, a tongue-in-cheek spoof that looks like serious feminist research, although it’s a random stroll through the subject of a weighing condition disproportionately affecting women.

Hauser pulls off a fascinating trick in this book, seemingly absorbed in her subject, but, ironically, almost bored with the whole idea of being a taxed researcher. Look here, she points out, at this deplorable state of mind, but let’s not get too involved—can’t get bored investigating boredom. 

The chapbook is a gem of design and concept, a mock manual, self-helpy in a wry, detached way. Each poem is a chapter describing some aspect of the malaise in question. Hence, we encounter “VI Concurrent Disorders,” “VIII Fatality Rate,” and “IX Occurrence Rate,” among others. The final chapter of course is “XVIII Cure,” one of the strongest poems in the collection. Is there a cure? Not telling, sorry. (Buy the book).
Hauser’s a subtle stand-up comedian in these pages, guiding us through the locales of mentally fatigued, put-upon women, playing the informed scientist, seemingly sympathetic but dabbling at her task, aware that getting too deep might lead her to some whiny pity party. She’s one of those authors you think you’d like to go to coffee with, anticipating great one-liners from across the table.

The poems are short and free-wheeling, on-target most of the time but sometimes at the outer circles of the dart board. This one’s a little too freely associative for its own good:


mid 18th Century French
from the Latin
mihi in odio est:
it is hateful to me
compare to: “annoy”
uh noi

More often these works give the feeling that the author’s thinking out loud, and that’s not any deterrent to the reader’s enjoyment. Hauser’s mind ranges far and wide, and following her excursions of thought is beguiling:


particular genre of boredom
     and disinterest that
        afflicts women     
      their potential
    see also suburbanitis
fig. a corset binding the soul

You have to love that coinage: suburbanitis, plus the dictionary gloss “fig.” that adds quasi-authenticity.

There are (semi-) serious poems in the book, needless to say. I loved “Occurrence Rate” for its spot-on insight:

seldom diagnosed
difficult to distinguish from

“good wife”

Hauser, however, keeps her tone amusingly nonchalant: Of course, we are oppressed, my sisters, she seems to be saying, but we’re delving into boredom, not confronting job discrimination.

Graham Greene used to classify his novels into two categories, serious works and “entertainments.” Hauser’s written a lively entertainment herself, a book to share with friends, as cocktail conversation or vacation fare. Ennui is downright uplifting, if you can believe that, given its subject. 

Richard Swanson is the author of two collections Men in the Nude in Socks and Not Quite Eden and a forthcoming chapbook (Paparazzi Moments), from Fireweed Press. A frequent reviewer for Verse Wisconsin, he is also the Secretary of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.