HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD
Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was one of the literary events of 2015. Her latest is Homesick for Another World, a wonderfully weird collection of short stories that first appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Granta.
Like Eileen, the stories in this collection are written in the first person. Moshfegh has an enormous gift for depicting the chaotic insides of a mind, and the way she commits to the point of view of her narrators insists upon their humanity.
The book opens with “Bettering Myself,” a portrait of Miss Mooney, a 30-year-old high school teacher at a Ukrainian Catholic school who is probably an alcoholic. Her students are terrible at math, so she has been fudging the state exams (“Most people have had anal sex,” Miss Mooney tells a student. “Don’t look so surprised”). The only bit of plot is that she agrees to meet her ex-husband for dinner at a fancy restaurant (“‘You look tired,’ he said. ‘Order whatever you want,’ he told me, as though I were his niece, some babysitter character”).
The last story, “A Better Place,” is the only one that hasn’t appeared elsewhere in print. It’s a fairy tale about twin siblings Urszula and Waldemar who are convinced they’re not from here, and to endure life “on Earth with all the dumb things,” poison themselves with berries that make their brains sleepy (Waldemar likes his up the nose). They believe the only way to get back to this other place is to die or kill the right person. Urszula comes to know exactly who her person is—a bad, bad man named Jarek Jaskolka. When asked for the specifics of his bad deeds, her brother replies “There are things men do. Nobody knows. It’s like a magic act. Nobody can solve it.” Urszula decides that “Magic acts are easy to solve” and vows to kill him.
Moshfegh’s characters are all seeking something outside of themselves to curb a sense of deficient emptiness, but have very different ways of attempting to fill the void—binging, purging, healing crystals, crystal meth, prayer, prostitutes, adding items to virtual shopping carts.
Homesick for Another World confirms that Ottessa Moshfegh is a master of the grotesque. She’s our West Coast Flannery O’Connor. In her own words: “My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined…It’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.”