A middle-aged man obsesses over a woman who works at an arcade. An unemployed man with acne, a severe rash and bad teeth goes on at length about how much girls fancy him. A young girl’s brother tells her that she has to “kill the right person” to return to “the place.” For many, these might not sound like stories with a lot of appeal, but in Ottessa Moshfegh’s short story collection Homesick for Another World the author creates characters so unique and with such distinct voices that I found it hard to stop reading, even though many of the characters were bizarre and unlikable.
Many of the stories are about people putting up facades because they can’t be honest about what they want. In “An Honest Woman,” an older man named Jeb obsesses over a much younger woman living next door. He first sends his nephew over to deliver a piece of her mail and act as a go-between. The nephew sets up a date with the neighbor, with Jeb insisting that the three of them have a drink at his house before the date. To Jeb’s good fortune, his nephew can’t make it due to bad weather and Jeb ends up alone at his house with the neighbor. Not surprisingly, things do not transpire quite the way Jeb though they would. “An Honest Woman” also shows how talented Moshfegh is with the odd detail when Jeb tells the girl that his wife’s diary, which he never read until after she died, “was all about bowling.” The collection is filled with these kind of strange but fitting specifics.
If you haven’t read Ottessah Moshfegh before, I would recommend starting with her novel Eileen before reading this collection. If you end up enjoying both books, then you’ll be happy to know that she has a new novel due out in July. It’s nice to find an author who doesn’t publish something once every five years.