The Gentleman Recommends: Ottessa Moshfegh

Homesick For Another World” is a brilliant collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh and a common affliction. It is certainly an affliction suffered by the characters that populate her stories. Some might describe her characters as losers and find themselves unable to understand how anyone but a loser or an aficionado or losers would enjoy these stories about drug users, sexual deviants, bulimics, body modifiers, bad actors, crooked Catholic school teachers, and one young girl who longs to murder the specific person whose death she believes will open up a portal to “a better place,” the place she’s always known she belongs. Well rest assured, having achieved the status of runner-up in dozens of eating contests, this gentleman is no loser, and this gentleman found these stories, despite the relative scantness of their plot, fascinating and absorbing.

Homesick for Another World book cover

No review you’ll read about this book will forego mentioning that, while dazzling, the book can often be dazzlingly disgusting. Now, having placed in a few of the more unsavory underground eating contests, perhaps my stomach is stronger than most, but I didn’t find myself reaching for my trusty vomit cauldron a single time while reading this collection. I’m not denying there is a generous helping of bodily waste present in these stories, nor will I claim that the various unpleasant conditions suffered by a wide variety of organs aren’t described with the sort of precision and economy that will have you in awe of Moshfegh’s talents and grabbing a reassuring sniff from a perfumed handkerchief. But this book is more than a catalog of skin conditions and bodily fluids; this book is an empathetic and acerbically hilarious examination of what it’s like to be broken and longing for something unattainable. I agree with Dwight Garner’s “New York Times” review:
If her work has echoes of other writers, her tone is her own. At her best, she has a wicked sort of command. Sampling her sentences is like touching a mildly electrified fence. There is a good deal of humor in “Homesick for Another World,” and the chipper tone can be unnerving. It’s like watching someone grin with a mouthful of blood.
Ottessa Moshfegh has cultivated a voice that, whether it’s describing a life of squalor and its many attendant grossouts or, should the subject one day catch her fancy, the elegant life of an eating contest contestant, deserves breathless acclaim.