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review 2017-04-18 21:23
A marmite collection of unique characters and stories.
Homesick for Another World: Stories - Ottessa Moshfegh

Thanks to NetGalley and to Vintage for offering me an ARC copy of this collection that I voluntarily chose to review.

I read Moshfegh’s novel Eileen (nominated for the Booker Prize, read my review here), admired it (perhaps liking it is not the right way to describe it) and I was curious to read more by the same author.  When I saw this book on offer I took the chance.

This collection of short-stories does reinforce some of the thoughts I had about Eileen. Ottessa Moshfegh can write, for sure. If the stories in this collection have anything in common, apart from the quality of the writing, is the type of characters. They all (or most) are lonely, only a few are likeable (they can all be liked, but that’s not what I mean) and easy to relate to, they often have disgusting habits (although I suspect that if our lives were put under a microscope and every last little detail was looked at and written down we might not look very pretty either), and are lost. The characters made me think of Sherwood Anderson and Flannery O’Connor (not the style of writing, though): those people who don’t seem to fit anywhere and are utterly peculiar, although many of the characters in the stories are only peculiar because we get a peep into their brains. One gets the sense that they would appear pretty normal from the outside. A man who lives alone at home, watching telly, and is friendly with the girl living next door. A Maths’ teacher, divorced, who might cheat on the students’ exams. A Yale graduate, who does not know what to do with his life, spends too much money on clothes and gets infatuated with a woman he only met briefly once. A couple of children, twins, telling each other stories. An aspiring actor who can’t get any acting jobs.

Of course, there are other things we discover. The man seems to have a strange interest in the girl next door. The Maths’ teacher drinks so much she keeps a sleeping bag at the school (well, it’s really a room in a church) so she can lie down between classes. The graduate has to sell his clothes in a desperate attempt to get the attention of the woman he is mad about. One of the twins is planning to kill a man. The aspiring actor doesn’t know who Scorsese is (or much about anything) and can’t even kiss a girl on camera. The author digs deep into the characters’ façade and pulls a distorted mirror to them, that like in caricature drawings, emphasises the weirdest characteristics rather than what might make them seem ‘normal’ because normal is a construct after all.

Not many of these stories would fit comfortably into standard definitions of what a short story is supposed to be like. If the author pushes the boundaries with her choice of characters and her descriptions (a lot of them have acne that they squeeze, they are sick or make themselves sick, their bodily functions are described in detail, and some are … well, let’s say ‘alternative’) she does the same with the stories. Quite a few of them seem to be slices of life rather than stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. There are some that have more of a conventional ending (even if it is open ended), but plenty do not and it is up to the reader to decide what, if anything, to make of them. If I had to choose and extract something from the stories (not a lesson as such, but a reflection of sorts) is that perhaps the only characters who end up in a better place or experiencing some sort of happiness (or contentment) are those who don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations and accept what might appear to be strange alliances and relationships. But perhaps it is just that those are the stories that have stuck more in my head.

Reading the comments, this collection, much like Eileen, is a marmite book. Some people really love it and some hate it with a passion. As I said, the writing is excellent, but you’ll need to have a strong stomach and not mind detailed descriptions of bodily functions and less than flattering individuals (nobody is tall, dark and handsome here, although some characters believe they are). Although many of the stories might feel dispiriting and depressing, this depends on the point of view of the reader and there are very witty lines and funny (but dark) moments.

Here some examples:

‘Oh, okay, there were a few fine times. One day I went to the park and watched a squirrel run up a tree. A cloud flew around the sky.’

‘I had a thing about fat people. It was the same thing I had about skinny people: I hated their guts.’

‘Her face was pinched, as though she’d just smelled someone farting. It was that look of revulsion that awoke something in me. She made me want to be a better man.’

In sum, I wouldn’t dare to recommend this book to everybody, by a long stretch, but if you want to check great writing, have a strong stomach, and don’t mind strange and not always likeable characters and unconventional stories, dare to read on. It will be an utterly unique experience.

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review 2016-12-26 10:35
The Darwin Awards
The Darwin Awards: 180 Bizarre True Stories of How Dumb Humans Have Met Their Maker - Wendy Northcutt

Not much I can say about this one: it's a collection of Darwin award winners (and the honourable mentions) and their stories.  It's both hilarious and possibly a sad commentary on the advancement, or lack thereof, of common sense.

 

For anyone who might not be familiar with the Darwin Awards, they are given each year for:

significantly improve the gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race in an obviously stupid way. They are self-selected examples of the dangers inherent in a lack of common sense, and all human races, cultures, and socioeconomic groups are eligible to compete. Actual winners must meet the following criteria:

 

Reproduction
   Out of the gene pool: dead or sterile.
Excellence
   Astounding misapplication of judgment.
Self-Selection
   Cause one's own demise.
Maturity
   Capable of sound judgment. 
Veracity
   The event must be true.

 

(source: darwinawards.com/rules)

 

Always good for a chuckle!

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review 2016-10-27 21:19
A "Marmite" kind of novel
Eileen: A Novel - Ottessa Moshfegh

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape, for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I have freely chosen to review.

I confess that I did look at some of the reviews on this novel before writing mine and they are very evenly divided. Some people love it and others can’t stand it. Yes, I guess it’s a Marmite kind of novel. Why? Having checked the novel in several online stores I noticed that it is classified under mystery novels, and if lovers of the genre of mystery read this novel I suspect many of them are bound to feel cheated or disappointed. Literary fiction, which is another one of the categories it is classified under, perhaps is a better fit.

The story is an in-depth look at a character, the Eileen of the title, who is narrating an episode of her own life, in the first person. It is not strictly written as a memoir. As I observed recently when reviewing a novel also told from the point of view of the older character looking back and reflecting at her young self (in that case it was Anne Boleyn), these kinds of books have the added interest for the reader of trying to work out how much of what is being told is filtered by the wishes of the older person to provide a positive portrayal of their young selves. In this case, what is quite shocking is that either that younger Eileen had no endearing features, or the older Eileen is trying to make herself feel better and reassure herself that she’s come a very long way, indeed.

Eileen is a lonely young woman (twenty-four at the time of the episode she describes), whose mother died years back, who has a very superficial relationship with her only sister (who no longer lives at home and who seems to be very different), and who lives with her father, a retired policeman, an alcoholic and paranoid man, who sees hoodlums and conspiracies everywhere. From the mentions she makes of her mother and her past experiences, her childhood was also sad and the opposite of nurturing, with both parents drinking heavily, and neither of them having any interest in family life (and even less in Eileen, as her sister seemed to be the favourite). She lives in a derelict house, drives an old car with exhaust problems, works at a young boy’s prison, and has no friends or hobbies, other than shoplifting and looking at National Geographic magazines. She lives in a world of fantasy, and even her physiological functions are bizarre.

In some ways, the novel reminded me of Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller because of the narrator, who was also very self-absorbed and had no empathy for anybody, although in that case, it wasn’t evident from the star. Here, Eileen sees and observes things carefully as if cataloguing everything that happens, but has nothing good to say about anybody, apart from the people she gets crushes on (however undeserving they might be).

The novel, full of details which can be seen as sad, shocking, or bizarre but humane depending on our point of view, hints from the beginning at something momentous that is going to happen and has influenced the choice of the point at which the story starts. A couple of new employees come to work at the prison and Rebecca, a young and glamorous woman (at least from Eileen’s point of view) becomes Eileen’s new obsession. She tries her best to deserve this woman’s attention and that gets her in some trouble that I guess it the mystery part (and I won’t discuss to avoid spoilers, even though as I said I don’t think the novel fits in that genre easily, although perhaps it shares similarities with some classics of the genre, and I’ve seen mentions of Patricia Highsmith. Ripley, perhaps?). From the reviews, I saw that some readers were disappointed by the ending, although it fits in well with the rest of the book. (And from the point of view of the character, at least, it feels positive.)

The novel is beautifully written (although the content itself is not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination), detailed and fantastically observed, and it works as an impressive psychological study, that had me wondering about all kinds of personality disorder types of diagnosis (although the whole family are depicted as very dysfunctional). It is difficult to empathise with such a character, although she seems to be an extreme representation of somebody with low self-esteem and completely self-obsessed (and at a lesser level, even if we might not feel comfortable acknowledging it, most of us have contemplated some of her thoughts or feelings at some point). She is relentless in her dislike for almost everybody and everything, but even her older self remains unapologetic (and well, it takes guts to just not care at all). I could not help but wonder how much better she is now, despite her words, as her comments indicate that she hasn’t changed an iota. If anything, she’s come into herself. But I guess self-acceptance is a big change for her.

I found it a fascinating novel, a case study of the weird and disturbed, pretty noir, but not a read I would recommend everybody. (After all, I’m a psychiatrist…) It is not a feel-good or a nice novel to read but it might be for you if you like weirdly compelling characters and are happy to go with a narrator who is not sympathetic at all. I don’t think I’ll forget Eileen or its author in a hurry.

 

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text 2016-06-10 12:13
WTF Friday: One Good Turn by Bryce Calderwood
One Good Turn: A Futanari Vampires Standalone Story - Bryce Calderwood
Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!


There are books that you read, books that you enjoy, and books that you experience. It's the difference between merely consuming the random assembly of dead letters on a page, and being consumed by the illusionary world they create. For the all-too-brief span of a single evening, One Good Turn was one of those books, sinking its teeth into me, holding me close, and refusing to let go until we both lay spent and empty upon the final page.

Bryce Calderwood is, quite simply, a true master of erotic horror. The imagination demonstrated here is astounding, but the quality of the writing is even better. It's a combination that makes for a deliciously deceptive read, with the writing itself almost too good for such weird, wild, wanton material. There's a passion to the storytelling that doesn't often make it through the interference of mainstream editors and publicists.

There are two narrative threads here, one dealing with supernatural monsters, and the other with human monstrosity. Ashima is a fascinating character, and one who embodies the very idea of rebirth and transformation. The greed and cruelty of a Saudi Arabian sex-slave ring transformed her the first time; the wealth and perversity of Japanese businessmen transformed her the second time; and the hunger and lust of Futanari* Vampires transformed her the final time. She is a complex woman, mentally and emotionally scarred from her childhood experiences, with the issues of power and control driving her in interesting ways. Her final transformation is not one that comes easily or instantly, and the way that supernatural seduction plays out is really the heart of the story.

This is a story that has its bloody, chilling, violent moments. As erotic and seductive as the vampires may be, Calderwood doesn't let us forget that they are monsters first - impossibly strong, bloodthirsty, dangerous creatures. Making them futanari vampires adds a whole new level of kink to their erotic aspect, however, and that's where the imagination of the story shines brightest. It's also where the theme of transformation gets a twist, in that the vampires looking to transform Ashima were themselves transformed into futanari by the doctor. Musette and Ashlyn's seduction of Ashima is breathtaking in its perversity, with acts that are as intoxicating as they are impossible, but the narrative strengths keep it from ever descending into mere literary porn.

If you have an open mind, a sense of erotic adventure, and an admiration for the beauty of imagination, then One Good Turn is worth checking out - and, if your first taste is to your liking, the full length novelEnthralled is already available, with sequel on the way later this year.


Kindle Edition
Published May 31st 2016 by Bryce Calderwood


 

 

 

* If you are unfamiliar with the term, futanari is a Japanese word meaning 'dual form', and it most commonly relates to women with both male and female sex organs. It's a mythological, imaginary third gender, only found in fiction.
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review 2016-05-20 12:14
WTF Friday: Ordeal by Wol-vriey
Ordeal: A Twisted Revenge Tale - Wol-vriey

Is there anything sweeter in this world than poetic justice? Anything more deeply fulfilling than watching some despicable human being get their just deserts? Anything more satisfying than seeing some piece of garbage get what's coming to them? Well, the moral of Ordeal is more cautionary then celebratory, but it still makes for one hell of a guilty pleasure.

Wol-vriey tells us the story of a man named Jack and a woman named Gina, two lonely lovers who meet beneath the street corner lights. Jack is a monster who likes to watch women suffer, getting off on the terror in their eyes when he rapes and murders them. His plans for the hooker with the movie star looks are just about as dark as you'd expect . . . but child's play compared to what she has planned for him.

This is a dark and twisted real, full of despicable violence and pain. Jack is a simple man with simple tastes, a monster and a villain without a single redeeming quality. As such, it's hard to feel even an ounce of compassion or sympathy for what he is forced to endure. As for Gina, she may be a monster and a villain herself, but she is also a complex human being. Her obsessive-compulsiveness is both unnerving and humorous, but it's her desperate need for love that makes her truly fascinating.

I won't spoil the fun - it's free, so give it a read yourself - but this is a book of layers, one with a really interesting contrast between order and chaos, and some deeper significance beneath the violence. It's a fun, brutal read that will also make you think.

Source: beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2016/05/wtf-friday-ordeal-by-wol-vriey.html
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