Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

What first drew me to this book, the latest from critically acclaimed author Ottessa Moshfegh, was the title. If I could title the general zeitgeist in America of late, it would be that. Homesick for Another World. And in "judging a book by its cover" news: the image of a vintage looking UFO on the cover accompanied by the clean color blocks spoke to me as well. Lately I've been looking for stories about people living just outside the edges, people who don't fit inside their own lives and spend most of their time inside their own heads. Something about the repellent nature of living in the world today makes characters like these resonate. I should also add that, by comparison, my own private Idahoes feel so much better when I read about theirs.

Homesick for Another World is a collection of short stories that fit exactly what I was looking for. Moshfegh's characters all live (or in some cases, spend just the summers in) the fringes of society, involving themselves in self-destruction, dysfunctional relationships, failed careers, and their own bizarre "other" worlds. There is a pervasive morbid quality to all of their lives and their situations are at once strange and totally normal. Moshfegh is so gifted at voice; though each protagonist was so profoundly different in each of the stories, they shared a quality of isolation and loneliness that managed to connect them all. I got the sense that they would recognize something in themselves if they met each other.

Some standout stories include "Bettering Myself" about a highly dysfunctional teacher with a penchant for inappropriate conversations with her students and ex-husband."The Beach Boy" tells the story of a widower and the discovery of his deceased wife's infidelity during their last vacation together. "Slumming" was the most engaging story for me. The story is about a teacher who spends her summers in a small, run down town, doing drugs which she buys from the "zombies" at the bus station and keeping the residents as "part of the scenery," until a pregnant young woman from the town comes to clean her house. Moshfegh gives us a glimpse inside the inner lives of these oddball, yet wholly relatable people.

I read this book as part of the Book Riot 2017 Read Harder Challenge. This is challenge #22: Read a collection of stories by a woman. There were SO MANY to choose from and ultimately, it came down to about six choices for this. What tipped me over to Moshfegh was that I so loved her novel Eileen and I wanted to hear her distinct and unique voice again. I get that this challenge's purpose was to promote more writing by women, however, I didn't find this part all that challenging. There is so much great short story writing by women. I'm thinking of Lorrie Moore, Miranda July, and if we want to take it old skool, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Kate Chopin....

(A note about the Read Harder Challenge: Considering we are mid-October and I am hella behind my reading schedule, I am doubtful I'm going to complete the challenge in 2017. I will pick it up in the first half of 2018...maybe. There will undoubtedly be a 2018 challenge that will strike my fancy by then and I'm nothing if not a slave to my own fickle reading brain. I do still have a few months but I'm not optimistic I'll get more than one or two more into this challenge. There are just too many other books on deck, damnit.)

2017 Read Harder Challenge
1. Read a book about sports.
2. Read a debut novel.
3. Read a book about books.
4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
6. Read an all-ages comic.
7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
8. Read a travel memoir.
9. Read a book you’ve read before.
10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
12. Read a fantasy novel.
13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
14. Read a book about war.
15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
17. Read a classic by an author of color.
18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
19. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.
20. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
21. Read a book published by a micropress.
22. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.

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