BookBrowse Reviews Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Homesick for Another World

Stories

by Ottessa Moshfegh

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh X
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Barbara Bamberger Scott
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BookBrowse:


An eerily unsettling yet delightful set of short stories from an author who is just get started on her stellar literary career.

The frizzy, freaky, funky, and frazzled all pile on in this much anticipated short story collection by award-winning author Ottessa Moshfegh.

The book comprises fourteen tales, generally dark, each unique in its expression of mute angst; sexual longings, fulfilled or repressed; human contacts tentatively made and frustratingly frayed. Yet each offers what this new writer's growing readership has come to expect: sudden splashes of outré humor in the midst of squalid, fetid realities. In Moshfegh's broken looking-glass universe, the narrator of "Bettering Myself," who probably really could have taught kids once, has long since given up on the idea; instead this school teacher talks to her students about sex and cheats for them on their state exams. When she describes her method for "Bettering Myself"—"I got my nails polished. I took myself out for lunch. I ate a salad for the first time in years,"—we allow ourselves to feel momentary hope for a happy outcome, even though we correctly suspect that her salad is going to be chased with Scotch.

One striking example of Moshfegh's bizarre but piquant humor comes out swinging when Charles, the "good" sibling in "A Dark and Winding Road" decides on the spur of the moment to turn bad, very bad indeed. When his brother's girlfriend shows up by mistake for an assignation in a tiny, lonely cabin in the wilderness, Charles could tell her anything, but what he actually does say—that he is the gay boyfriend of her absent lover—is just too outrageous to be anything but hilarious.

And imagine the frustrations of "Mr. Wu," a nobody nursing a secret passion for a woman who runs a video arcade. He satisfies his mute lust with prostitutes, plotting and planning for the night when he can finally lure the object of his true affections into a dark alleyway by means of enigmatic text messages. When Mr. Wu finally achieves his goal, he finds he has run out of things to say.

Moshfegh's debut novel, Eileen, was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and won the PEN Hemingway Prize for debut fiction. One of the stories in Homesick, "Slumming," an eerie concoction in which the sudden exigencies of someone else's real life shakes a disaffected woman out of her dull, drugged routine, has already won an O'Henry Prize. A number of the offerings from the collection have appeared in Paris Review.

Moshfegh has lived in China, the setting for "Mr. Wu," and an interview for The Guardian, she states that "Bettering Myself" came "from very close to home." Autobiographical inferences aside, Moshfegh has a pure, enviable gift for creating characters so far off-kilter that they come full circle, from unlikeable to amusing to very nearly charming—a talent she demonstrates admirably in this collection. Neglected, lonely, disaffected, a little hateful, a little endearing, and curiously open to raw possibility—these are Moshfegh's misfits. Her psychologically twisted anti-heroes have evoked comparisons to Patricia Highsmith and to Flannery O'Connor, because of her subtle grasp of the grotesque.

Homesick for Another World keeps Ottessa Moshfegh on track for further acclaim as a well-tuned literary voice for the dysfunctional and desperate.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2017, and has been updated for the November 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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