HITTING SHELVES #23: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh


Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh comes out today!

It’s the story of Eileen Dunlop, a young woman in 1964 cloistered in her secretarial job at a New England correctional facility for boys. A new counselor shows up and pulls Eileen out of her bizarre interior life, into a startling crime.

Moshfegh, author of the world’s least likely literary masterpiece about a pirate, is being hailed as “The Next Big Thing” and we couldn’t agree more. Nobody writes such unsettling stories with such poise. Reading Eileen is like hearing Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, and Alfred Hitchcock sit around a fireplace and one-up each other.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Eileen?

Ottessa Moshfegh: I’m leaving California and driving across the country back to Boston, my home of origin, in September. I haven’t lived there since I was half my age. I must say I’m excited to be getting rid of nearly everything I own. On August 18th, the day Eileen comes out in stores, I’ll email my heartfelt appreciation to the wonderful people responsible for its publication, and then I’ll probably lug some more stuff to the charity thrift store up the street. Probably just dishes, and this silk pillow that has started to creep me out. It’s hand painted and very pretty, but the painting is of this really uptight Japanese woman’s face. I always felt sort of judged by her for not having a fancier apartment. So I’ll donate her, let her terrorize the next jerk. Then I’ll go for a walk around the cemetery.

Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh

Growing up in New England has made me a cemetery snob, I guess. Places like Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor and Swan Point Cemetery in Providence make the cemeteries of California seem sort of fake and new and lame. My grandfather is buried outside of LA somewhere. My dad and I went to visit his grave there when I first moved to California, four years ago. It was an ugly cemetery. Life is ugly sometimes, I’m not complaining. Mountain View Cemetery here in Oakland is a good place to mosey around and have a contained little existential crisis from time to time. From certain slopes, on a clear day you can see all the way to the Bay Bridge and San Francisco. Not that I care so much about the views. I’ve always felt like a stranger in California. I don’t like the vibe here. It’s too dry. It’s too in love with itself. I don’t know. I’m leaving this place, so now I’m trying to hate it. It wasn’t so bad here really. There were some laughs. Sometimes in Mountain View, I’d pick a grave and try to communicate with the spirit of the dead person whose grave it is. I’d say something like, “Anything cool happening in your world?”

On August 18th, I’ll probably want to seek out some way to offset my dumb anxiety about the book coming out. An earthquake would be helpful. A lightning storm. A few decades ago, when workers were clearing an area for a regional shopping center not too far from here, they discovered an enormous Native American burial ground. Then they just went ahead and built a mall. Now people buy crap at Ikea where the Ohlone people buried their dead for thousands of years. Fuck you. Remember in “Ghostbusters” when the idiotic EPA inspector shuts off the power supply to the ghost storage facility and New York City fills up with ghouls? Something like that would be good on August 18th. There’s nothing like a city-wide ghost invasion to overshadow one’s brewing angst. But I wonder, barring such a miracle, how best to honor this day? Maybe I’ll go to Ikea and talk to the old Ohlone spirits. “I’m sorry for this disgrace,” I will say. “People don’t respect one another in this culture. We like money. We like shopping. We don’t respect ourselves, the planet, life.” Typing that fills me with sorrow and disdain. I suppose it’s the nature of humanity to self-destruct. Ah well. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Get the book here.

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