Sunday, February 26, 2017

Homesick for Another World

by Ottessa Moshfegh

Penguin Press     2017

304 pages     Short Stories

In her book of short stories, Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh has created characters that you might not want to know, but who fascinate you none the less. From the first story to the last, these are people at the fringes of society and at the fringes of their mental health.

The first story is about an alcoholic, divorced math teacher, who hates her job, hates her life, and hates her students. She keeps trying to put herself back together, but just can’t do it. Finally, she quits her job, but not before telling her principal that she fudged on the state exams. (I loved that—every teacher wishes to fudge on the state exams.)

The final story is about twins, a boy and a girl. They are about seven or eight, and the boy has filled his sister with the ugly thought that at some point, the earth is going to swallow her up and take her to another place. She has to kill someone in order to go to this other world, and she desperately wants to get there. How she goes about making this wish come true is devastating and a fitting conclusion to this fascinating collection.

I feel somewhat at a loss in blogging about Homesick for Another World. Each story features a character or two in a uniquely painful situation.  Sometimes I felt like a voyeur. I didn’t want to know about the messiness of these lives. Sometimes, I hurt for their pain and their loss. I had never met these characters before, and therein is the allure of the book. You have not read these stories before. I could not read more than one story at a time; they were just too painful. Frankly, this is not a book for everyone. Why persist in reading it?—because these are people that you need to know; because even if they would not become your friends, these are the people you see on the subway, or the bus, or in line at the grocery store.

The New York Times reviewer says, “A good story is a high-wire act that uses angle of vision, voice and plot to produce a work that somehow, against all odds, radiates meaning at all levels — in the sentences, the structure and in the absences.” Moshfegh is a master of the absences.  

Ottessa Moshfegh is a young author. She has published a novel, Eileen, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016.

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