Arts and Culture, books

Author Highlight: Otessa Moshfegh

I know she’s not reading this because she said she doesn’t read reviews, but every once in awhile Googles her name to see if people are talking shit about her on Twitter.

Last night I went to hear Otessa Moshfegh read from her new short story collection, Homesick for Another World.  She wrote a book called Eileen that we read in my book club (thank you, Ed!), which we all loved. It’s grotesque and painful, and uncomfortably comical.  Because the voice in Eileen is so dark and strange I was particularly curious to see Moshfegh in person. To hear her talk about how she sees the world, thinking it would shed light on why she crafts such darkly desolate and negative views of humanity that somehow make me feel closer to people while I read them.

The reading was at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. It was a torrential downpour with 50 mile per hour winds. I was this close to bailing. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Here are highlights from the reading:

  • The interviewer, Michele Filgate, asked what the role of the writer is during these crazy political times. Moshfegh gives this Cheshire Cat grin, looks at the audience and eventually just says, “I have no fucking clue.”  I appreciated that, it’s a fair question and if someone has an answer I’d like to hear it. But what’s refreshing about Moshfegh is that she doesn’t attempt to fill our expectations of her. Period. Not in her storytelling, and as far as I could tell last night, not as a person in the world either.
  • She started off by telling us that she is arrogant, maybe the most arrogant person she knows. That she knows she’s talented and capable and probably smarter than a lot of people. And she goes on to say she’s fucked up and full of vices and that she has demons which come through in her books, but she doesn’t think of those things as being outside the norm, she thinks struggling with internal (and external) ugliness is what unites us, what makes us human. That is exactly why I loved Eileen.
  • “I don’t know any good normal people – who I don’t hate.”
  • The interviewer asked when she knew she was a writer. Moshfegh says she was a writer when she was 9. She didn’t eggshell around owning her role as a writer -her confidence is somehow otherworldly but not boastful. She explained that English wasn’t her parents’ first language and that it was hers, she owned it. (She emphasized this pulling a theatrical fist into her body.) They didn’t know what she was reading because of that so, for example, she read The Unbearable Lightness of Being something like eleven times when she was ten years old.
  • The interview ended with Moshfegh talking about the last short story in this book, called “A Better Place.” When she finished that story, she knew Homesick for Another World was complete. She said she finally answered the question she had been trying to ask throughout the entire book.
    Disclaimer, I haven’t read it yet – it sounds like the question is about staying comfortable in safe zones, with sure-footed love, or opting for an unknown that could be better than what is, but is unassured, adventurous and maybe even a little bit dangerous. Do we stay or do we go?

I’m (clearly) eager to dig into this book. She’s an author I’m eagerly following. Her next book is about a pre-9/11 artist living in New York. And already I’m eagerly awaiting its’ arrival too.


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