Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel Eileen was one of the literary events of 2015. Read more...
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Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel Eileen was one of the literary events of 2015. Garlanded with critical acclaim, it was named a book of the year by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. But as many critics noted, Moshfegh is particularly held in awe for her short stories. Homesick for Another World is the rare case where an author's short story collection is if anything more anticipated than her novel. And for good reason. There's something eerily unsettling about Ottessa Moshfegh's stories, something almost dangerous, while also being delightful, and even laugh-out-loud funny. Her characters are all unsteady on their feet in one way or another; they all yearn for connection and betterment, though each in very different ways, but they are often tripped up by their own baser impulses and existential insecurities. Homesick for Another World is a master class in the varieties of self-deception across the gamut of individuals representing the human condition. But part of the unique quality of her voice, the echt Moshfeghian experience, is the way the grotesque and the outrageous are infused with tenderness and compassion. Moshfegh is our Flannery O'Connor, and Homesick for Another World is her Everything That Rises Must Converge or A Good Man is Hard to Find. The flesh is weak; the timber is crooked; people are cruel to each other, and stupid, and hurtful. But beauty comes from strange sources. And the dark energy surging through these stories is powerfully invigorating. We're in the hands of an author with a big mind, a big heart, blazing chops, and a political acuity that is needle-sharp. The needle hits the vein before we even feel the prick.
Junot Díaz once wrote that short stories “strike like life and end with its merciless abruptness as well.” Three new collections offer moments of insight and escape, only to zip away, as ephemeral as life itself.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, was born in Vietnam and came to the United States with his family as a refugee in 1975. Dedicated to “all refugees, everywhere,” The Refugees is a selection of nine stories from Nguyen’s 20 years of writing. Set within California’s Vietnamese community or in Vietnam, these tales display an extraordinary range of perspectives stretched between two worlds, as parents and children grapple with memories that comfort or haunt. A ghostwriter’s dead brother returns as a ghost, dripping wet, but their mother seems to be expecting this surprise guest. An aging couple in an arranged marriage struggle as the husband’s dementia causes him to call his wife by another woman’s name. We all find ourselves between cultures, and Nguyen considers these boundaries with an empathetic and often humorous eye.
National Book Award finalist Jim Shepard’s (The Book of Aron) keen interest in time and historical detail take center stage in his fifth collection, The World to Come. These 10 stories make vast jumps, from a snapshot of 1600 B.C. Crete to a modern-day parable about the American health care system. Perhaps the most evocative stories here are epistolary—an anxiety-inducing account of an ill-fated arctic exploration and the poignant, immersive title story about a woman’s double life on the American frontier. Though these tales vary wildly in temporal setting, a thread of quiet isolation coupled with a longing for connection binds these characters together. For masterfully crafted historical fiction, there are few contemporary authors who can rival Shepard.
BEAUTY IN SQUALOR
Following her brilliant breakout novel, Eileen (2015), Ottessa Moshfegh proves her remarkable prowess once again with Homesick for Another World. This dark collection arrives on a current of unease, each story focusing on people filled with a seemingly hopeless desire for connection: A broken man pines for the manager of a videogame café, a woman hates her unhinged boyfriend but lacks the will to leave him, an English teacher spends her summers strung out in a dying town. In blunt, unflinching prose, Moshfegh reveals her characters’ deepest anxieties and perversities without judgment or sympathy. Spiking her stories with pitch-dark humor, Moshfegh adeptly captures what it means to be alone; if you’ve ever felt homesick while sitting in your own living room, this book is for you.