I find Ottessa Moshfegh to be incredibly divisive as a writer. Of all her work, I was a little lukewarm on Eileen, but I might reread it soon, and I LOVED her story collection. I actively disliked McGlue, and thought My Year of Rest and Relaxation was amazing. I also really really liked this one. If you didn’t, I get it; she is divisive.
So we begin with our narrator Vesta walking her dog in the woods where she lives. She finds a note that cryptically suggests a murder has happened to someone named Magda. Spooked, but bemused she continues on. As she tries to process the information, she starts to put some thinking into what this might mean. To do this she begins to visualize and construct some narrative around the gaps of the story. This leads her down the path of really giving into her imagination and she begins to construct a mystery story around this small note.
As this happens, Magda gives us some personal history: the story of her marriage, her childhood, her life as she moved into this small town. All of this adds further mystery and intrigue into the story she’s living and that she’s constructing. As she continues this process, she starts finding herself at the center of the very story she’s inventing.
So this novel is abstract in a lot of ways, and a few things come to light that made me really like it. One, Vesta, our narrator, is so funny and sweet and dark. Two, she, both Vesta and Moshfegh, are pulling the innards out of the mystery novel and playing around in the offal. Three, Magda’s voice is written in a way I just don’t hear people talk anymore. She believes in evil, and this changes the world around her in her eyes, and by extension, ours.