Ottessa Moshfegh’s collection of short stories, Homesick For Another World, presents a series of people who are each alienated and disconnected in their own ways. Each of them are desperate for some kind of connection with the world or with another person. The ways they go about forging these connections, however, are weird and damaging and dark.
Only one word comes to mind at first: Grim. Grim grim grim. After that comes bleak, I guess. But there’s also dark humor and a sense of compassion. The weird, unfulfilled, and misguided characters in these stories aren’t being mocked or gawked at. Instead, they’re simply presented with all their flaws and desires, with a concise style.
Moshfegh has a real talent for delving into the darkness and coming up with something human. These stories aren’t always easy to read, but they’re compelling in their strangeness and in their insight. Each one has an ending or an image or an idea that will sit with you for days.
I loved Moshfegh’s novel Eileen, and you can read my post about it here. What I said about that book applies to this collection, too: “This is a stark, bleak, sometimes ugly book, but it’s also compulsively readable and deeply affecting.”
I was going to wait for Halloween to tell you about this one but I can’t because it’s too good and I want to talk about it now.
For one day in rural Wisconsin, the dead come back to life. Now this small town has been quarantined by the government, the so-called “revivers” try to go back to some kind of “life,” and Officer Dana Cypress is put in charge of dealing with those who came back from the dead and the media attention that came with them.
Haunting, compelling, and gruesome where it needs to be, Revival works as a police procedural, as a horror story, and as the story of an isolated and struggling small town. It’s also a nice examination of life and death, and the complex relationship people have with both.
Full disclosure: I found out about Revival while eagerly gorging myself on the latest installment of Chew, which included a preview of the cross-over story that the creators of both comics put together.
I can’t wait for the next installment of Revival. You’ll be seeing this one again during Horror month.
Sometimes Horror just isn’t what you want. Sometimes you just want dark and unsettling, without jump scares or guts or monsters. Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest, Eileen, might just fit the bill for you this Halloween.
Eileen is the story of a young woman who works in the office of a boys’ prison in the early 1960’s. It’s the week before Christmas in a tiny New England town, and by the time the holiday rolls around Eileen will have disappeared. She’s narrating from a point in the future, where she’s changed her name and taken on a new persona. But clearly the past is still very much with her.
Eileen is distinctly unlikeable, but she’s such a well-developed character with such a distinct voice, filled with so much violence and desperation, that she’s compelling anyway. This is a stark, bleak, sometimes ugly book, but it’s also compulsively readable and deeply affecting. You can perhaps find a bit of pity for Eileen, trapped by her time and place and position.
The whole world of the story is dark and cold, the pre-Christmas New England snows a perfect backdrop. The one bright spot that appears is when Eileen has the opportunity to make a friend in the new prison psychologist, Rebecca. It could be the break she’s been waiting for. But you quickly learn that in this book, the world’s not that kind.
If you’ve watched the brilliant television series American Horror Story (currently in its fifth year), you’ll know what I mean when I say that, in terms of oppressive atmosphere, compelling but deeply flawed characters, this book reminded me of “Asylum,” the anthology’s second setting/story arc. Eileen in my imagination had the same color palette, the same dingy surroundings, the same dark shadows. What’s lurking in the dark may not be the same, but the set-pieces sure felt similar.
This also counts as 26 Books to Read in 2015: #6! an author I’ve never read before.