Sunday, February 12, 2017

Homesick for Another World: Stories

Homesick for Another World: Stories by Ottessa Moshfegh, 294 pages.

Moshfegh made the Booker Prize shortlist in 2015 with her novel, Eileen. The title character in that (excellent?, disturbing?) book was telling a tale of her long ago shame, though she wasn't exactly ashamed. The narrators of these tales are in the middle of their off-kilter lives and aren't focused on how their circumstances or actions make them feel.
Whether it's the still-drunk-from-the-night-before Catholic school teacher busily puking in the nun's bathroom before class or giving horrible sex advice to her students during class in the opening story, "Bettering Myself," or the young actor who is so disturbed by his own chewing gum that he can't kiss either girl during an audition  that he retreats to the embrace of his elderly landlady in "Nothing Ever Happens Here,"shame isn't really in the emotional wheelhouse of these characters. They are distracted, or stunned, or stumbling away from or toward something. You can feel ashamed for them, but it probably won't matter to them. Nobody wants anything from you, or from anyone for the most part. Some of the stories have a bit of something like hope, a chance of escape or of change, anyway. The widowed husband is happy to be alone, but rethinking his relationship with his ex-wife a bit. And the girlfriend of the meth-addicted apartment manager might be going somewhere soon, or maybe not. All of the stories seem as though they are going to be difficult to read straight through, but they twist a bit, and the narrator just wants the tale told, and the stories are all very good. It's hard to fathom how one person can imagine this whole catalog of oddity and borderline misery, and hard to imagine how this artist can present it all so well.

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