Today I bring you a book by a writer I’ve reviewed here before. And, well, it’s a bit special…
Homesick For Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
The debut short story collection by the author of Eileen, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016.
There’s something eerily unsettling about Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories, something almost dangerous while also being delightful – and often even weirdly hilarious. Her characters are all unsteady on their feet; all yearning for connection and betterment, in very different ways, but each of them seems destined to be tripped up by their own baser impulses. What makes these stories so moving is the emotional balance that Moshfegh achieves – the way she exposes the limitless range of self-deception that human beings can employ while, at the same time, infusing the grotesque and outrageous with tenderness and compassion. The flesh is weak; the timber is crooked; people are cruel to each other, and stupid, and hurtful, but beauty comes from strange sources, and the dark energy surging through these stories is oddly and powerfully invigorating.
Moshfegh has been compared to Flannery O’Connor, Jim Thompson, Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith but her voice and her mastery of language and tone are unique. One of the most gifted and exciting young writers in America, she shows us uncomfortable things, and makes us look at them forensically – until we find, suddenly, that we are really looking at ourselves.
“Dark, confident, prickling stories . . . . Moshfegh uses ugliness as if it were an intellectual and moral Swiss Army knife . . . Her stories veer close to myth in a manner that can resemble fiction by the English writer Angela Carter. There’s some Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews and Katherine Dunn in her interest in freaks and quasi-freaks . . . At her best, she has a wicked sort of command. Sampling her sentences is like touching a mildly electrified fence. There is a good deal of humor in “Homesick for Another World,” and the chipper tone can be unnerving. It’s like watching someone grin with a mouthful of blood.”
– Dwight Garner, New York Times
“A fluent, deeply talented artist . . . Moshfegh quickly established herself as an important new voice in the literary world, and her concerns for those isolated not only in the margins of society but within the physical confines of the body itself mirrored the work of brilliant predecessors like Mary Gaitskill, Christine Schutt and, in some ways, Eileen Myles. Homesick for Another World continues that exploration but with a wider range, over a larger landscape. It’s a paradox that in order to locate a sense of national character—and that ever-elusive American dream—art must continually probe the places where that dream seems to have all but disappeared.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“On second and third reading, these stories reveal coils of plain language and quick narratives tight as songs. What is at first urgent and disorienting becomes a hymn, improving with repetition, all of it worth memorizing.”
— Village Voice
“[A] stunning debut short story collection . . . Moshfegh displays a preternatural ability in short fiction, her stories impeccably shaped, her sentences sharp, and her voice controlled and widely confident; the stories of Homesick For Another World are near perfect examples of the form . . . What makes the pieces composing Homesick so thrilling, in addition to their technical inscrutability, is their ability to surprise—with their ferocity, depravity, and casual violence, with their very ability to so consistently unsettle . . . Amid the collection’s dark tone, Moshfegh imbues an equally dark humor, at times absurd, at others melancholy and bone-dry . . . If you’re the kind of person who laughs when the grandma gets axed in “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” you’ll be right at home in Homesick.”
— AV Club
“Ottessa Moshfegh’s story collection, “Homesick for Another World,” couldn’t come at a better time. Notions of class and power are in an unpredictable flux. A new elite rises, flipping the deck into the air. Nobody knows where the cards will land. So here comes Moshfegh, whose imaginative writing about train-wreck characters, rich and poor, adheres to a relentlessly dim worldview where a divided America comes together in the muck . . . The best stories in the collection, however, contain memorable, conflicting images of squalor and beauty, chaos and pattern.”
— Associated Press
“All psychologically astute, astringently funny and wonderfully entertaining.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Startling and impressive new short story collection. . . Despite her unsparing dissection of their paranoias, fetishes, and failings, Moshfegh doesn’t condescend to her characters; she is both gimlet-eyed and compassionate . . . there is both piercing wit and unexpected poignancy to be found in Moshfegh’s original and resonant collection.”
— Boston Globe
“The characters in this collection are an unlovely bunch but make for an irresistible read . . . Moshfegh — a Boston-born, Los Angeles-based writer whose Man Booker-shortlisted novel Eileen (2016) infused the same sensibility into a witty, skillfully told suspense story — has other tones and tricks at her command. She writes terrific, attention-grabbing openings, and impactful last lines that don’t strain for a lapidary effect. Her damaged-girl deadpan snark is second to none . . . the authority of her storytelling means that she’s able to bring the reader along with her on some surprising paths to her typically desolate destinations.”
— Financial Times
“Stunning short story collection . . . There’s not a story in Homesick for Another World that’s anything less than original and perfectly constructed. Moshfegh’s talent is unique, and her characters — unfiltered, cold, frequently pathetic — are all the more memorable for their faults and obliviousness. Anyone who’s experienced the special kind of homesickness that lacks a home will find something to relate to in Moshfegh’s unsettling, sharp stories.”
“These stories are Moshfegh’s deepest, darkest moments of introspection. Let them in.”
— Electric Literature
“The title and cover of Homesick for Another World might lead you to believe Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories are set in outer space, but she’s done the opposite: approached Earth as if it were an alien planet . . . Moshfegh imbues her anguished realism with equal parts murky dread and clever turns of phrase. But for stories about isolation and loneliness, they are also oddly funny… a short story collection that’s as consistent—and often brilliant—as they come.”
“Ottessa Moshfegh’s startling new stories are darkly, prickly, gross — and impressive….
Despite her unsparing dissection of their paranoias, fetishes, and failings, Moshfegh doesn’t condescend to her characters; she is both gimlet-eyed and compassionate. These are “sad. . . lonely and troubled” people, but many are improbably appealing; even the most twisted and tortured have recognizably human qualities . . . if you can stomach the discomfort, there is both piercing wit and unexpected poignancy to be found in Moshfegh’s original and resonant collection.” — Boston Globe
“Psychologically astute, astringently funny and wonderfully entertaining . . . Moshfegh’s singular stories are unified by bold ideas, intoxicating detail and perfectly calibrated humor and pathos.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Sentences looped and pulled into perfect slipknots: Moshfegh’s ear is original, and her command of form, expert. I would read anything she writes.”
“Homesick for Another World showcases her mastery with tales of a range of creeps and weirdos in despair… This cast of boors may not be the kind of folks readers would seek out to spend time with in real life. But in Moshfegh’s stories, their company is irresistible.”
“Homesick for Another World is an impressive study of human vulnerability and self-deception, through which the reader is guided by a cynical and darkly funny literary voice.”
“Expertly crafted stories . . . There’s not a throw-away story in the collection. Each resonates with seemingly effortless, ineffable prose, rarely striking an inauthentic note—particularly memorable are the endings, which often land to devastating effect. The author’s acute insight focuses obsessively, uncomfortably, humorously on excreta, effluvia, and human foible, drilling to the core of her characters’ existential dilemmas. Moshfegh is a force.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred)
“[Moshfegh] is fearless in her probing of her characters’ emotional wounds, proceeding with such a sure touch readers are compelled, not repelled. The directness of her style demands that we register the life ‘stuffed between the mattress and the wall.’ While it is not always an easy read, this collection will leave readers with a sharper, more compassionate sense of the human condition.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“A smartly turned and admirably consistent collection about love and its discontents.”
About the author:
Ottessa Moshfegh is the author of McGlue, Eileen, and a forthcoming short story collection, Homesick for Another World.
A review in the Guardian:
Thanks to NetGalley and to Vintage (Penguin/Random House) for offering me an ARC copy of this collection that I voluntarily chose to review.
I read Moshfegh’s novel Eileen (nominated for the Booker Prize, read my review here), admired it (perhaps liking it is not the right way to describe it) and I was curious to read more by the same author. When I saw this book on offer I took the chance.
This collection of short-stories does reinforce some of the thoughts I had about Eileen. Ottessa Moshfegh can write, for sure. If the stories in this collection have anything in common, apart from the quality of the writing, is the type of characters. They all (or most) are lonely, only a few are likeable (they can all be liked, but that’s not what I mean) and easy to relate to, they often have disgusting habits (although I suspect that if our lives were put under a microscope and every last little detail was looked at and written down we might not look very pretty either), and are lost. The characters made me think of Sherwood Anderson and Flannery O’Connor (not the style of writing, though): those people who don’t seem to fit anywhere and are utterly peculiar, although many of the characters in the stories are only peculiar because we get a peep into their brains. One gets the sense that they would appear pretty normal from the outside. A man who lives alone at home, watching telly, and is friendly with the girl living next door. A Maths’ teacher, divorced, who might cheat on the students’ exams. A Yale graduate, who does not know what to do with his life, spends too much money on clothes and gets infatuated with a woman he only met briefly once. A couple of children, twins, telling each other stories. An aspiring actor who can’t get any acting jobs.
Of course, there are other things we discover. The man seems to have a strange interest in the girl next door. The Maths’ teacher drinks so much she keeps a sleeping bag at the school (well, it’s really a room in a church) so she can lie down between classes. The graduate has to sell his clothes in a desperate attempt to get the attention of the woman he is mad about. One of the twins is planning to kill a man. The aspiring actor doesn’t know who Scorsese is (or much about anything) and can’t even kiss a girl on camera. The author digs deep into the characters’ façade and pulls a distorted mirror to them, that like in caricature drawings, emphasises the weirdest characteristics rather than what might make them seem ‘normal’ because normal is a construct after all.
Not many of these stories would fit comfortably into standard definitions of what a short story is supposed to be like. If the author pushes the boundaries with her choice of characters and her descriptions (a lot of them have acne that they squeeze, they are sick or make themselves sick, their bodily functions are described in detail, and some are … well, let’s say ‘alternative’) she does the same with the stories. Quite a few of them seem to be slices of life rather than stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. There are some that have more of a conventional ending (even if it is open ended), but plenty do not and it is up to the reader to decide what, if anything, to make of them. If I had to choose and extract something from the stories (not a lesson as such, but a reflection of sorts) is that perhaps the only characters who end up in a better place or experiencing some sort of happiness (or contentment) are those who don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations and accept what might appear to be strange alliances and relationships. But perhaps it is just that those are the stories that have stuck more in my head.
Reading the comments, this collection, much like Eileen, is a marmite book. Some people really love it and some hate it with a passion. As I said, the writing is excellent, but you’ll need to have a strong stomach and not mind detailed descriptions of bodily functions and less than flattering individuals (nobody is tall, dark and handsome here, although some characters believe they are). Although many of the stories might feel dispiriting and depressing, this depends on the point of view of the reader and there are very witty lines and funny (but dark) moments.
Here some examples:
‘Oh, okay, there were a few fine times. One day I went to the park and watched a squirrel run up a tree. A cloud flew around the sky.’
‘I had a thing about fat people. It was the same thing I had about skinny people: I hated their guts.’
‘Her face was pinched, as though she’d just smelled someone farting. It was that look of revulsion that awoke something in me. She made me want to be a better man.’
In sum, I wouldn’t dare to recommend this book to everybody, by a long stretch, but if you want to check great writing, have a strong stomach, and don’t mind strange and not always likeable characters and unconventional stories, dare to read on. It will be an utterly unique experience.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this novel, thanks to you for reading, and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!