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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 2015-04-29 00:00
Winesburg, Ohio
Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson,Malcolm Cowley Introduction

--The Book of the Grotesque

--Hands, concerning Wing Biddlebaum
--Paper Pills, concerning Doctor Reefy
--Mother, concerning Elizabeth Willard
--The Philosopher, concerning Doctor Parcival
--Nobody Knows, concerning Louise Trunnion

Godliness, a Tale in Four Parts:
--I, concerning Jesse Bentley
--II, also concerning Jesse Bentley
--III, Surrender, concerning Louise Bentley
--IV, Terror, concerning David Hardy

--A Man of Ideas, concerning Joe Welling
--Adventure, concerning Alice Hindman
--Respectability, concerning Wash Williams
--The Thinker, concerning Seth Richmond
--Tandy, concerning Tandy Hard
--The Strength of God, concerning the Reverend Curtis Hartman
--The Teacher, concerning Kate Swift
--Loneliness, concerning Enoch Robinson
--An Awakening, concerning Belle Carpenter
--"Queer", concerning Elmer Cowley
--The Untold Lie, concerning Ray Pearson
--Drink, concerning Tom Foster
--Death, concerning Doctor Reefy and Elizabeth Willard
--Sophistication, concerning Helen White
--Departure, concerning George Willard
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text 2014-09-18 18:30
Free on the Kindle
Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson
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review 2014-08-15 00:00
Winesburg, Ohio
Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson
"You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices."


At the heart of the city and the people in Winesburg, Ohio is a purity, an optimism that over time becomes tainted, decayed, distorted because of missed opportunities or common mistakes experienced in life. The vignettes in this story at times overlap, characters come and go throughout the stories, but all of them are interconnected in one way or another. The failings of people during the industrial age of a small town is as close to relevant today as it was in the early 20th century with some obvious changes of perspective, but not enough to make it seem dated. The people you encounter on your visit will be wanting, dysfunctional and insufficient with chances for redemption but as the old saying goes, and which also seems to go ignored throughout the book, "the truth shall set you free."

In The Book of the Grotesque the author does a great job in setting the mood for the reader. With great hesitation the author leads the reader down the path of what one can expect while hearing the tales of the characters in Winesburg, Ohio. As much as it may hurt, you just know that you can't help yourself, and reading this book must be done. Hands is a story of a once successful farmboy who was hypnotic in his ability to harvest fruits and vegetables. As a young man he becomes a beloved school teacher with a subtle, hands-on approach with his students which draws the ire of his peers. Over time an apparent innocent act incites the imagination of others which in retrospect deem him to be intentionally devious. An unfortunate event and general misunderstanding leads a well-meaning and sensitive man to squash his dreams, repress his ultimate passion in order to live a safe lifestyle. Paper Pills tells a story of an old doctor who had one friend to his name. As a therapeutic way of freeing himself from the burden of his thoughts he writes them on pieces of paper, forms them into balls and stuffs in his pockets. He abruptly marries a young dark woman who has recently come into some money. With successful, virile young men lining up around the corner to call on her, why would she choose an old Dr.? Mother is a story about a small pox survivor who owns a failing, unprofitable hotel with her husband. The disease took its toll on her physically and emotionally which also exacerbated the feelings that her husband had given his current station in life. With a wayward son that reminds her of herself at that age, mother must get to her son before father ruins his potential and leads him down a life of anonymity. The Philosopher is a story about a self proclaimed doctor that has had great difficulty choosing a path in life. At one time a newspaper reporter he became a minister and eventually settled down as a doctor. He wants respect and admiration from the locals but his physical appearance does not reflect his desires. He befriends a reporter with hopes of redemption through the art of storytelling. But how will the good doctor respond when the opportunity truly presents itself? Nobody Knows is a story about a young man mustering the courage and acting on the advancements of a young women. After each involved party received exactly what they wanted out of the deal, why is the man upset?

"The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful..."


Godliness 1) A feminine looking young man has recently been handed the ownership of the family farm after the death of his mother to natural causes as well as his four brothers in the war. His father's grief has taken over forcing him to leave, while in Jesse's mind everything that happens is part of God's will for good, bad or indifference. The idea of being strong in spirit, faithful in God and determined to reach a goal will propel him to success but there will be a cost to be paid. 2 David views his grandfather's farm as a safe haven from the abuse of his mother Katherine. After years and years of punishment David is viewed as a reward from God through the eyes of grandpa. One night David sees a side of his grandfather that he never knew existed which scars him for the rest of his life. It just goes to show that God knew that this man could not be trusted with nice things. 3) More than anything else in the world, all Louise ever wanted was to be loved. At fifteen she moves into the home of a family friend. She works extremely hard and over time she begins to overshadow the other children in the household. She aims to please others but is conflicted when it begins to pull at both ends. 4) After observing a religious ritual, scary to the non-observer and feeling the fear of God in the pit if his stomach, David is abruptly forced into a life of uncertainty and a chance to assume a new future. A Man of Ideas is a story of a man that has an understanding of how to effectively communicate his thoughts to the intended audience for great influence. While the majority see him as a meek, mild-mannered man there are times when he explodes out of nowhere frightening the people around him. What may seem as the ideals of a raging lunatic are actually very clear once you bypass your fear and look through the smoke. A man that prefers the traditional to the modern, manual to the automatic, the natural to the synthetic. Adventure Alice Windham is a precocious sixteen year old that draws the eye of an older gentleman. She offers herself to him and given his needs at the time there is no better time than right now. He decides to move to Cleveland for a job opportunity and promises to come back for her. Years pass and Alice holds hope, she denies herself of needful things, so money can be saved for the day he comes back. She denies the advances of gentleman callers because of the overwhelming feeling of passion. Sometimes your first love really does have a hold on you.

"Before such women as Louise can be understood and their lives made livable, much will have to be done."


Respectability Is there really any other option for the ugliest man in town than to hate women, pity men and wish death upon himself. When your inner beauty supersedes the flaws on the outside you keep waiting for somebody to shine a light. The Thinker Lost in thought never learning how to act. Failing to feel a part of his environment the fear of a lifetime of loneliness is in the awning. Subtly he is told that talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, will he ever figure it out? Tandy Father shows more love to a drunken stranger because he says everything he wanted to hear. After feeling a sense of identity and importance and being told the things she needed to hear,so does she. Thank you stranger. The Strength of God When you are always looking for something you sometimes find it in the most peculiar of places. The Teacher Men and women and mixed signals, you don't say. Old and young and misunderstandings, yeah right. At different points in life you have to expect the expected especially in a small town like Winesburg. Loneliness A manchild failing to be a functional part of the world becomes a character in an ensemble in his own cerebral cortex. Traversing between the real and surreal their are no other responsibilities except for his own happiness. When a woman infiltrates his inner sanctuary he may have no other option.

"Many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg."


An Awakening Like a teenage sweetheart movie, a physically immature young man is unaware that a psycho, uncontrollable beast is waiting while he kisses his girl. After a psychological castration and relentless bullying, the hot dish ran away with the goon. Unlike a teenage sweetheart movie this boy doesn't get the girl and he wouldn't have it any other way. Queer A man's desire for normalcy without preconceptions based on his father's reputation leads him to an alteration to past business practices. Maybe a speckled trout needs to be with other speckled trout or embrace the differences that make us who we are. The Untold Lie Farm hand partners with drastically different dispositions. When an opinion is needed one man has great difficulty being honest because of his own hesitations. A billion people can't be wrong. Drink Coming from the rough and tumble streets of Cincinnati, simple pleasures can seem so dirty to the sheltered. When you experience the more modern and expansive world of Winesburg these same pleasure you hold disdain for can suddenly become quite intriguing. Death At a time when small town doctors generally had no specializations except for the main goal of keeping patients alive. A doctor can simply act as a sounding board for a troubled patient and breathe new life into them.Whether sexual, emotional, or spiritual, accept a relationship for what it is, don't make more of it than what is really there or risk losing it. Sophistication A man on the precipice of adulthood. Upon extended contemplation and fears of being a leaf blowing in the wind he envisions himself to be a sturdy oak tree producing the wind that blows the leaves and nothing short. While diving head first is admirable, taking a step back and enjoying one last moment of innocence wouldn't hurt either. Departure Don't think of nothing big or dramatic, think of the little things, reminisce, and just go.

As depressing as many people believe this collection of stories to be, I believe this book to be a call to the acknowledging of life's impediments and staying in tune to your true self. Think of this as a collection of lessons learned from close to one hundred years ago that still resonate today.

"In youth there are always two forces fighting in people. The warm unthinking little animal struggles against the thing that reflects and remembers, and the older, the more sophisticated thing had possession of George Willard."

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text 2014-06-26 01:25
Reading progress update: I've read 18 out of 285 pages.
Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson

I think I read that Ray Bradbury said that part of his inspiration for The Martian Chronicles came from this book. It's a collection of short stories that are all connected.

 

I just read the first story, and I have to say I'm intrigued as hell. "Hands" was a damn good first story. I think I'm going to enjoy the hell out of this. I still have other books that I'm reading right now, but I'd love to dig into this one a little deeper.

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