Ottessa Moshfegh lifts the rock of our inner lives to see what sort of critters writhe beneath in darkness. While she thoroughly explored the inner lives of troubled protagonists in her novels McGlue and Eileen, Moshfegh’s tight-yet-roomy plotting lends itself well to short fiction. Because of this, there is perhaps no better display of her unique talents than Homesick for Another World, which features new pieces alongside stories that previously appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. In each story, a cockeyed protagonist is confronted by exactly the kind of pain they need to grow. That may sound rote, but Moshfegh dazzles with her abilities to sidestep sentimentality in favor of plot development, to humanely portray the broken, and to slowly unfold a surprise. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Ottessa Moshfegh begins her new novella, “I wake up,” and spends the next 118 pages exploring what awake means. It’s McGlue who wakes drunk, head split open, and he’s spitting teeth that “scatter across the deck like dice.” He’s bleeding and looking for a place to puke when he hears other men on the ship say that he killed Johnson, who was his friend, his close friend, and had saved McGlue’s life more than once. When they first met, Johnson had scooped McGlue out of the snow where he would have happily died drinking. This is the Johnson who funded McGlue’s booze habit and led them around the world, who woke McGlue in the middle of the night to share his “life words.” But now Johnson is dead and McGlue is stuffed in the hold of the ship where he tries to remember what happened. But memory, as Moshfegh writes it, is a lot like rolling the dice. On one toss you win and on the next there’s nothing—you get something somehow less than zero. So you keep rolling and rolling until it’s the rolling rather than the results that mean anything.
The story takes place in the 1850s. Moshfegh creates a world of ships and ports, drinking and fighting that is vivid and steady. But it’s McGlue’s voice, in first person, that makes the story compelling and holds my interest. He is brutal and tender. He can talk about anything and I listen, even when I know he’s lying. Moshfegh, who has previously written and published short stories and was awarded the Plimpton Prize for her work in The Paris Review, brings a trusty ear for words to this slightly longer form. Her language moves. On page after page are turns of phrase like, “He hands me the pen and points. I make a puddle of my name,” which are unique, even pretty, but aren’t just for show. They speak to McGlue’s consciousness. He is making a puddle of himself with booze, or by smashing his head and drinking his own blood when there’s no rum around.