Book review: Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories explore human desires, self-deception

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Mar 27, 2017 09:12 PM IST

American novelist Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick For Another World — a collection of short stories — is filled with dark humour and explores the harsh realities of life.

American author Ottessa Moshfegh’s collection of short stories titled, Homesick For Another World, touches upon human impulses, strange whims and desires that most of us tend to conceal. Through her admirable use of language, which is lucid and jocose, the author unleashes simple; sometimes discomforting forthcomings. Her bourgeois characters dissatisfied with their lives seek refuge in self-deception; fantasies and day dreaming, so to deal with their emotional and existential crisis. Her characters yearn for a change of fortune and a betterment of life — equanimity seems to be missing from the humdrum routine of their lives. For instance, in Mr Wu, a man gets infatuated with a girl, far younger than him, at a local computer arcade to the extent that he broods about her in all his waking hours: only to find in the end that it was vanity.

American writer Ottessa Moshfegh won O. Henry Award for one of the stories in this collection, titled Slumming.
American writer Ottessa Moshfegh won O. Henry Award for one of the stories in this collection, titled Slumming.

Book cover of Homesick for Another World.
Book cover of Homesick for Another World.

Slumming is a brief, grim tale about a woman’s life in a downtrodden town called Alna. The filth and decay are rawly present in the story. Even the rats of this town are lazy, drugs are available easily and the decay is in the air, spreading all over the town like a disease. The protagonist is rich by the standard of the town and owns a summerhouse in this unattractive world. The writer has described the atmosphere zestfully. The story begins as she’s coming to the town for a stay, which gets prolonged for years. Moshfegh, in this story and through her extraordinary precision and intensity, restores the evaporating reality in the end.

In Bettering Myself, which opens the collection, an alcoholic school teacher — who has been through a broken marriage — bored with life is trying to spice up things with drinking sprees on weekends. She despises her job and forges test papers of her students in order to save it. And despite being half in love with her boyfriend, she still has her ex husband at the back of her mind, who wishes to do away with her for life. She realises the same at the end of the story.

Moshfegh’s imaginative world is filled with dark humour and harsh realities. The stories about human desires are relatable and demand self-introspection; her characters in pursuit of their desires deceive themselves by evading reality. Her uncomfortable stories manage to redound the reader’s conscience through the pellucid prose in which they are written. Her lonesome and woolly protagonists evoke a feeling of disgust and at the same time empathy for the perversive sense of failures in their lives. The book can easily be classified as grotesque and absurd. Yet there’s brilliance in it, which will keep the reader engaged and entertained.

Title: Homesick For Another World

Author: Ottessa Moshfegh

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: Rs 530


    Saad Ghani writes on Books and Culture, for the daily Entertainment & Lifestyle supplement, HT City

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