Thursday, February 16, 2017
Review: "Homesick for Another World" by Ottessa Moshfegh
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh is the wildest, craziest and most inventive short story collection I have read in a long while, up there with Scott Snyder’s Voodoo Heart and Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged and Everything Burned. Each story seems to pulsate with a black heart that can be mean, can commit acts of cruelty but is always all too human and all too recognizable to anyone who has lived a day on Earth. I became a fan of Moshfegh’s late in 2015 while reading her debut novel Eileen over one of the dreariest Christmases I can remember, and it perfectly summed up the feelings I had over the holiday season (it helps that it takes place around Christmas time as well). After that I read her little novella McGlue, which also shared this author’s bleak yet wondrous worldview. But none of those books really prepares you for a book like this, one that is part fairy tale, part fever dream and part warped reality of the selfish, broken people who always seem to be at the center of these daring stories. I was reminded throughout of the work of Amelia Gray and George Saunders, but the worlds Moshfegh crafts are much more precise and emotionally resonant and a little bit of the brutal real world that exists on the edges of these character’s precious lives always seems to be dripping in despite their efforts to plug the holes. I can’t think of a weak story in this bunch, but as I do with all of my reviews, I will point out a few that really stuck with me. This collection gets off to a strong start with the bleakly humorous “Bettering Myself” about a female teacher whose life revolves around her drinking problem and calling her ex-husband in between teaching lower tier math. This story really exhibits Moshfegh’s precise attention to detail as she amusingly describes her old classroom, the weird sex lives of her students and what her morning routine is like, which of course involves throwing up before class. It also introduces an underlying theme to all these stories. They tend to show people trapped in lives that fit them a little too well, they are aware of their lot in life and they look upon it with sheer disappointment and helplessness, despite what they may tell us. It shows in similar stories like “No Place for Good People” about a widower whom who works at a halfway house for the mentally disabled and “The Surrogate” about a beautiful figure head for a small company. Moshfegh also has a talent for describing the lives of the elderly. In stories like “The Beach Boy” and “An Honest Woman” are great parables for elderly dread. And of course, misplaced affection is another specialty of hers, with stories like “A Dark and Winding Road”, “Dancing in the Moonlight”, and “The Locked Room” effortlessly shows the progression of love, to obsession, to cruelty and to despair. The final story “A Better Place” is a haunting story that reads like something written by the Brothers Grimm and might be the best of its kind since the title story from Wells Tower’s collection. These stories and this book are a real treat and easily the best book, so far, in 2017.