Ottessa Moshfegh was nominated for the Booker Prize this year. Her novel was interesting, divisive, weird and sad. Her place is somewhere in between Flannery O’Connor and Shirley Jackson, with some Sylvia Plath thrown in. If that makes sense to you and appeals to you, here you go.
If you told me you hated this book I wouldn’t hold it against you. I wouldn’t even try to argue with you. It feels both purposely and decidedly divisive. But! If you like it, I think you’ll really like it.
I struggle with short story collections. I was an English major and I read a billion short stories, but I often felt like what I was doing was dealing with something that could be covered in a class period as opposed to something meaningful. I think I like short story collections even less. Something is there that feels directionless and unimportant. But I really did enjoy almost every single one of these stories. There’s 14 of them, they’re all between 15-30 pages, which is a solid length. She has a clear style and form, but not necessarily a concise purpose behind this collection. I think 2-3 could be cut and it wouldn’t suffer.
Her stories is all off center a little. The characters are raw and somewhat grotesque. They like going to Hooters and use the r-word to describe intellectual disabilities. They have crude weird bodies, and their language is direction and offensive a lot of the time. You don’t like them, but you like that they exist. I think that this is a strong collection and doesn’t feel so drenched in the writerly bad habits of a lot of contemporary writers. Moshfegh has complete control and that’s almost always a good thing.
Take some random passages:
“Somebody should rub my feet with those hand, but not you,” he said.
I sat down, sniffed the air, and lit a cigarette.
“I’m still not feeling well,” I said. “And I’m broke.”
“I won’t give you any money,” he answered. “But if you cut the grass, I’ll pay you for your time.”
“How much time?”
“Twenty bucks’ worth.”
“I’ll consider your offer and get back to you,” I said. My uncle liked official talk like that.
“Looking forward to it,” he replied. then he reached under his robe and shuffled the bag around. My eyes rolled.
We watched Law and Order, then Oprah, the Days of Our Lives.
I cut the grass.”
“I stared at the girl’s face as she passes, her tiny pores, her small upturned nose, oily purple makeup darkening into the crease of her heavy eyelids. She dialed the phone and lifted the collar of her shirt to wipe the sweat off her chin. I opened the cabinet under the sink and gestured toward the cleaning supplies down there. She nodded, “Hi, momma,” she said turning away from me, coiling the cord around her wrist.
I left her there, went into the den, unwrapped my sandwich on the coffee table, and unscrewed my soda. I was a grown-up. I could sit on the sofa and eat a sandwich, I didn’t have to call my mother. I didn’t even have to clean my own house. I listened to the girl talk. “I’m fine, momma. No don’t worry, “she said. “I’ll be home in time for dinner.” After she hung up, I heard her rattling the bucket of sprays and cleaners from under the kitchen sink.”