Posted on June 10, 2018
20. ‘Homesick for Another World’ by Ottessa Moshfegh
‘Dark’, ‘angry’, ‘unflinching’ – these are the sorts of words I’d heard used to describe Ottessa Moshfegh’s short story collection Homesick for Another World. Also, ‘comic’ and ‘weirdly hilarious’. Of course, that sounds like just my kind of thing, but when I read the book myself I got all of the anger and not really any of the humour.
The first story in this collection is about an alcoholic teacher who sleeps in her classroom and describes her terrible love life to her students. The second story gets inside the mind of a misogynist who is obsessed with a woman… until she shows interest in him. The third is about a bulimic man who abuses the woman he sleeps with. Homesick for Another World is peopled with deeply troubled, self-hating, not-at-all-likeable characters and the terrible things they do to themselves and each other. That’s an interesting perspective to take – Moshfegh is masterful at producing twisted logic and really testing the reader’s ability to empathise – but it gets pretty wearing to read story after story of relentless filth and misery.
I didn’t get the humour in this collection at all. It’s supposed to darkly funny, but I just thought it was dark. A lot of the time the characters believe themselves better than other people, even when they clearly aren’t. They have this angry, righteous judgement of others which helps them to delude themselves that, though they might be bad, they’re not that bad, or at least not bad in that way. I did wonder, after a while, if this was Moshfegh’s point – the reader doesn’t like these characters, so believes themselves superior, but really aren’t we all down in the muck together? OK, it is true that we’re all essentially the same, but I prefer a view of humanity that’s a bit less… squalid.
Sexual violence features quite often in these stories, as well as drug use, physical and verbal abuse, and sickness and disease. Deformity and disability also appear in a lot of the stories, and while you could argue that Moshfegh sails close to the wind with that old ‘disability as a marker of evil’ trope, all the characters in these stories are nasty and unlikeable, so the disabled characters aren’t really unique in that sense. Instead, disability is used to incite disgust in the stories’ protagonists: they feel repulsed by bodily difference, and their disgust manifests itself in anger and violence. Again, this judgemental streak is another reason not to like the characters.
I wouldn’t recommend this collection. While other people might find dark humour in it, I thought it was just dark, and I didn’t find it very enjoyable to read. In fact, I felt dirty after reading it. In Homesick for Another World Moshfegh manages to turn the ultimately uplifting message ‘We are all the same’ into something far bleaker: ‘We are all terrible’.
“It’s just love rotting up inside of me.” – ‘The Surrogate’
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
If you want to read it, you can buy Homesick for Another World here.