Title: Homesick for Another World
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Format: eBook, courtesy of NetGalley and Penguin Press
Start Date: March 22, 2017
End Date: March 28, 2017
Rating: 3 to 3.5 stars
That’s the cruel way of all those silly people: they tell you that what you believe is just some silly story. That’s why I hate it here. Everybody thinks that I am crazy.
Otessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World is essentially a collection of short stories about horrible people. There’s a smatter of people who are drunks, bordering on being stalkers, insecure, unhappy in their relationships, recreational drug users, unhappy with their overall lives, and even one little girl determined to return to some other world. Moshfegh’s collection gives us a wide range of views from a wide cast of characters that, although they seem disparate on the surface, are really all looking for the same thing: a way to better themselves and escape their lives.
The hard truth of this book is that a lot of these stories were uncomfortable to read. Some of these characters were outright jerks, but many of them merely toed the line between right and wrong, between being acting in accordance with society and being an anomaly. If you were to meet them on the street, you might not suspect anything was afoul. However, we do not merely see the surface of the person. No. We hear their innermost thoughts: the thoughts that even they might not even feel comfortable voicing aloud. We, as readers, are witness to the dark corners of these characters’ minds that are, quite honestly, kind of messed up.
But I think the real reason these stories are uncomfortable is because we can see the humanity in each of these characters. Because, as terrible as these people are, there’s still something that makes them identifiable; although they seem so outlandishly “out-there,” they are also on some level instantly relatable.
That’s not to say that they were not also frustrating. There were plenty of times where a character’s thoughts or actions felt so wrong that it was hard to continue empathizing with them, their self-inflicted problems, and their stubborn unwillingness to change. But there were also a lot of parts that, while not prone to redemption, were at least laugh-out-loud funny; for example, in “Dancing in the Moonlight,” Nick meets the girl of his dreams and proceeds to describe her: “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.”
One of my complaints about a previous collection of short stories I read – Mariana Enriquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories – was the abrupt ending of many of the stories, leaving room for ambiguity that seemed too far out of reach. However, although the stories in Homesick for Another World often seemed to end abruptly, there was a sense of resolution in the plot, maybe not immediately obvious, but also close enough that it felt like enough.
This is a weird book filled with weird stories. The cover kind of conveys that weird vibe. There are stories set in the present day, but a lot of the stories are the characters relating their past selves, about a particular event that happened years ago, that was formative to who they now were. Each character has their own unique voice and are off-kilter in their own unique way.
The title of this collection is also a curious one. Although there is a more literal interpretation of the title after reading the final story, “A Better Place,” there was also a pervasive sense of this theme that seeped into each of the character’s narrative. Could the title mean that the narrators, looking back on their past selves, are homesick for how things used to be in their lives? Or, while in the confines of the story being told, were the narrators implying that the way things are around them are not good enough, and they are homesick for another world because they want to get away – away from their problems, away from the mundane, away from the stupidity of other people? Either seems plausible and entirely possible.
I think this story speaks to everyone and will convey a different overall message to each reader. It was a powerful collection that speaks to our innate need to always want something better, something just out of our reach, and how far we are willing to go to get there.
Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Press for a copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review!