Homesick For Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh’s collection of short stories, comprises a selection of her previously published pieces, culminating in a grand anthology that exemplifies Moshfegh’s work precisely. The published book helpfully gathers most of her published short stories together in one accessible volume (excluding only three: “Medicine”, Vice, December 1, 2007; “Disgust”, The Paris Review, No. 202, Fall 2012; and “Brom”, Granta, Issue 139, 2017). A Better Place is the only chapter that was written for the book itself. It stands alone as an ending to the book, but also as a new piece within itself.
The author of the best-seller Eileen has a distinctly identifiable style:
You know, I like weird characters. I don’t know any normal people [laughs]. I do like cliches in my satire: the hipster in the story dancing in the moonlight is a distillation of all the hipsters I knew when younger. I tend to be mean, huh? I’m really hard on men, especially older men.
Moshfegh deliberately chooses to write about the dirtiest and grimiest of our human activities, describing things we all do, the dark things, and finds beauty in the fact that we all indeed have that same darkness within. These stories illuminate the dark truth of human nature, told raw and real, with a morbid sarcasm and dry wit.
The stories are simple and relatable, drawing on settings and feelings that everyone has experienced. Influenced by what upsets her, Moshfegh depicts our normalized ‘bad-habit’ activities, such as going out clubbing or going to work drunk, and shows how these activities inspire some of the brightest revelations from the characters. Nights of drunk dancing in the club leaves the teacher in “Bettering Myself“ fully understanding that makeup covers up the self, only making people more fake and therefore more removed from the self.
The overriding question was: Are we all totally alone, moving with a single consciousness stuck inside our brains and bodies, can we really connect and communicate? If it’s so hard to do that, do we really love each other? And is it possible to really accept love? A lot of the characters in the stories ask themselves that question, seeking out love or self-love in some way, usually preposterously. What’s curious is how isolated I really am, and, paradoxically, by writing about isolation I came out of isolation. I love my stories and I love myself at this point, but when I started I don’t think that was the case. -from An Interview with Ottessa Moshfegh
Drawing on the external and internal blemishes of people is one of Moshfegh’s trademarks. Her fascination with the darker sides of the human experience leads her to explore the way our ugliness can bloom into something beautiful (and, vice versa, how beauty can be deceptively ugly) through her writing.
There’s one earlier on called “A Dark and Winding Road” which is about a pseudo-intellectual Manhattanite on the brink of fatherhood and he goes on a trip to his family’s cabin in the woods to escape his wife who he believes is irrationally cruel to him. The reader gets a sense that this guy is in a panic over change and being asked to change. When there, he thinks a lot, smokes some weed, has some experiences, and a visitor drops by looking for his brother. The story, for me, becomes about someone feeling the hard way that we love people, like people in our family, who are essentially a different version of you. -from An Interview with Ottessa Moshfegh
Though fictitious, these stories reflect the changes Moshfegh went through in order to find herself, and touches readers in a lot of ways that we can relate to. The stories are approachable and real.
“A Better Place,” which is mostly from the perspective of a female twin child who tries to cope with the impossible decision of escaping a life she does not enjoy or staying in it to be with someone whom she feels affectionate. It’s somewhat sci-fi-esque, but in the end, it’s about deciding if you want to go elsewhere to be happy or stay safe perhaps with someone you love of your own blood. It’s how I felt when I decided to move to Los Angeles and, in turn, move away from some of the values I had been raised with. -from An Interview with Ottessa Moshfegh
Nina Corcoran recognizes that “Ottessa Moshfegh appeals to everyone, if only because she articulates life in a way everyone knows to be true but rarely gets the chance to read about in such mesmerizing.“ Deeply complex characters performing habitual routines allow readers to relate to the characters in a way that we don’t, normally — allowing us readers to own our darkness and see the beauty in our truth. This treasury of Moshfegh’s work demonstrates her use of short fiction as a tool for processing human emotion, sarcasm and dry wit as weapons against the harsh realities of the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Moshfegh is a frequent contributor to the Paris Review; she has published six stories in the journal since 2012. Fence Books published her novella, McGlue, in 2014. Her novel Eileen was published by Penguin Press in August 2015, and received positive reviews. The book was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Homesick for Another World, a collection of short stories, was published in January 2017.