book review: Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

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HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD by Ottessa Moshfegh
★★☆☆☆
Penguin Books, 2017

 

Ottessa Moshfegh has to be one of my favorite writers that I discovered in 2018; My Year of Rest and Relaxation both thrilled and unsettled me, and after I finished that I proceeded to devour her debut novel Eileen. So it was with optimism that I approached her short story collection Homesick for Another World – I was looking forward to more delightfully awful antiheroines and sardonic humor and a heightened awareness of the mundane. Be careful what you wish for, I guess?

What made Eileen‘s titular protagonist and My Year of Rest and Relaxation‘s unnamed narrator so fascinating wasn’t just the fact that they weren’t particularly likable people; their thorny exteriors were a result of two distinct tragic backstories, whose ramifications Moshfegh deftly explored throughout the course of each novel. It turns out that bite-sized stories about awful characters doing awful things and thinking awful thoughts are so much less interesting when their behavior isn’t rationalized or contextualized in that same way. Reading story after story about humanity’s capacity for cruelty starts to feel like a shtick after a while, like a party trick that’s worn out its welcome. It’s easy to become desensitized when you feel like the author’s main objective is to shock you.

Two stories stood out to me: The Beach Boy follows an older married couple returning from an island vacation, only for the wife to die unexpectedly as soon as they arrive home. Unpalatable as this couple may be, like all of Moshfegh’s protagonists, we actually are able to get invested in them before the story takes a turn for the macabre. And A Better Place ends the collection on a positively eerie note, telling the story of two young twins who are convinced that they weren’t born on earth, and to get back to that other place, they need to either die or kill someone. I think it speaks volumes that the best story in the collection is the one that’s least like the others; A Better Place is wildly inventive and not quite as grounded in gritty realism as the others, but still dark and twisted and more haunting than the rest of the stories combined.

That’s two out of fourteen that made an impression on me. The rest honestly just blend together. Moshfegh has such a unique voice as a writer that shines through all of the stories in this collection, but rather than bringing me the same kind of offbeat joy as her two novels, this collection just started to make me miserable after a while. Apparently my average rating for all these stories was 2.7 stars, but I’m rounding down due to the dread I felt about picking this back up when I wasn’t reading it. I’m still going to read everything Moshfegh writes… I’m just hoping for more novels from now on.

19 thoughts on “book review: Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

  1. I had this in my hand and nearly bought it the other day, because I feel like she’s an author I could love, but decided to be sensible and read My Year of Rest and Relaxation first, since I already own it. And whilst this review made me glad I held back from picking this collection up for now, it has made me even more eager to get to her novels!

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  2. Fantastic review! I could not agree more about the awfulness of the characters – I love unlikeable narrators and characters in general, but there’s something about the short format that doesn’t mash well with that. Sorry you did not enjoy this one more!

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    • It’s so interesting how collections as a whole take on their own ‘feel’ that can occasionally be greater or lesser than the sum of their parts. Like how my ratings for these stories averaged out to nearly 3 stars but I still went with 2 because of the overall vibe of the collection.

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  3. Oh darn, what a disappointment! I was hoping Homesick would be a good place to start with Moshfegh, but it doesn’t look like that will be the case. The two stories you liked do sound very intriguing, but I’m glad to know not to judge Moshfegh’s novels based on this collection if I do still end up reading it soon.

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    • I’ll be very curious to see what you make of this collection, not being familiar with Moshfegh’s other work. Maybe you won’t find the repetitive nature of the stories quite as tiresome without being aware of the elements being recycled from Eileen…? At any rate I do hope you enjoy this, and if not, I hope you’ll still give her novels a try!

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      • That’s an interesting thought, and I think I had a similar impression after finishing Daisy Johnson’s Fen- I felt that her story collection would probably be better received among readers who haven’t already seen her style in the novel. It’s not exactly formulaic, but she does rely heavily on the metaphoric-turned-literal tactic that’s less surprising after reading Everything Under.
        I think I will still plan to read Homesick first of Moshfegh’s work so I might have a better chance with it, but I won’t let it ruin my excitement for her novels regardless!

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      • That’s interesting to hear! Since that was my biggest problem with Everything Under I wonder if I would have done better to read Fen first, so I’d have seen that ending coming in the novel and may have found it less jarring… So interesting how an author’s work is best approached in a certain order sometimes!

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    • Please do! Short stories keep growing on me but these really really did not work for me. Then again, I do know a few people who loved this collection and who are lukewarm on her novels, so if you dislike My Year maybe that will be the case for you? I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

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