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Homesick for Another World: Stories


Homesick for Another World: Stories

In HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD, the first short story collection by Ottessa Moshfegh (whose debut novel was the critically acclaimed EILEEN), readers are drawn into the gritty and mundane lives of her often nameless characters. These lonely, sometimes desperate, figures are finely drawn and enigmatic, and the book as a whole is disconcerting and somehow lovely.

“Bettering Myself” opens the collection and sets the tone. In it, a young and disenchanted teacher moves through her days, barely functioning. Her ex-husband offers to pay her to leave him alone, and he pays her enough that she contemplates leaving her job. But even the effort of submitting her letter of resignation is too much. Another almost apathetic, and even more adrift, woman is at the center of “The Weirdos.” Living with a boyfriend she hates in the filthy apartment complex he manages, she tries to support him as he pursues an acting career. But even as he loses touch with reality, she stays with him, feeling imprisoned by an unarticulated emotional force.

"HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD is relentlessly dark and ominous with moments of sly humor.... Moshfegh is a force to be reckoned with, as her short stories are powerful slices of sad and profane lives."

Moshfegh pushes the themes of emptiness and isolation even further in “The Surrogate,” whereby a young and attractive woman plays the part of a business executive on behalf of a man who thinks that people will see her “as a sex object,” which will work to his advantage in negotiations. So she lives part of her life as Stephanie O’Reilly, dressed up for the part and coached in comportment and lingo. Out of character, she seeks to remedy the anxiety and deep sadness caused by a pituitary problem. Cared for by the family who employs her, she nevertheless feels alone. Years later, suicidal and still lonely, she calls a magician she heard of while working for the family. It is only with this elderly healer that she finds some amount of peace.

In most of the tales here, readers (and characters) are left with a sense of uncertainty. Stories are entered without much context or background, and resolution is never assured. 

Lest one assume that Moshfegh writes only in the voice of young rudderless women, some of her strongest stories in this collection are told from a male perspective. Themes of isolation or lack of connection, fear and self-doubt plague the men in HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD as well. There is the titular Mr. Wu, who is in love with the woman who works in the video game arcade he frequents. He takes a chance and begins texting her declarations of love and finds her to be as “lonely and troubled” as he is. In “Malibu,” Moshfegh introduces a fascinating narrator; unreliable in the post-modern sense, he insists that girls like him, despite his physical flaws (acne, bad teeth, a rash across much of his body) and the lies he tells. He hooks up with a woman named Terri for an awkward and terrible dinner date. “Malibu,” like most of these stories, has a simmering and never fully realized danger that makes for an uncomfortable and chilling read. This potential for harm and disaster is perhaps most strong in “An Honest Woman,” in which a newly single woman and her creepy elderly neighbor spend an evening drinking together.

An unhappy new father escapes his family for the cabin his parents kept, only to encounter a woman hoping to share her drugs with his abusive and criminal brother. A high school English teacher spends her summers in a small and impoverished town doing any drugs she can buy. A hopeful actor befriends his old Hollywood landlord. All of Moshfegh’s characters are on the verge of violence and, at the same time, on the verge of nothingness.

HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD is relentlessly dark and ominous with moments of sly humor. It is a sharp and original collection, not without a touch of tenderness. Moshfegh is a force to be reckoned with, as her short stories are powerful slices of sad and profane lives.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 26, 2017

Homesick for Another World: Stories
by Ottessa Moshfegh

  • Publication Date: December 5, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0399562907
  • ISBN-13: 9780399562907