Ottessa Moshfegh is brilliant

Copy+Editor+Brody+Hall+encourages+readers+to+check+out+the+author+Ottessa+Moshfegh%2C+who+has+written+books+such+as+the+%22New+York+Times%22+bestseller%2C+%22My+Year+of+Rest+and+Relaxation.%22
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Ottessa Moshfegh is brilliant

Copy Editor Brody Hall encourages readers to check out the author Ottessa Moshfegh, who has written books such as the

Copy Editor Brody Hall encourages readers to check out the author Ottessa Moshfegh, who has written books such as the "New York Times" bestseller, "My Year of Rest and Relaxation."

PEXELS

Copy Editor Brody Hall encourages readers to check out the author Ottessa Moshfegh, who has written books such as the "New York Times" bestseller, "My Year of Rest and Relaxation."

PEXELS

PEXELS

Copy Editor Brody Hall encourages readers to check out the author Ottessa Moshfegh, who has written books such as the "New York Times" bestseller, "My Year of Rest and Relaxation."

BRODY HALL, Copy Editor

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What makes characters interesting these days? When I’m reading something, usually fictional, am I looking for a character with a fully developed backstory, filled with childhood trauma and steamy college romances that explain their adult psyche? Or am I looking for the heroine who is angry not only at her cheating husband, but herself, too, for allowing this situation to happen to her? Am I looking for the person who is so broken and damaged, that rock bottom has become their permanent residence?

No. Nowadays, when I’m looking for something to catch my attention and keep it, I’m wanting a protagonist in a novel who is dirty, nasty and most of all, funny.

I have read plenty of novels with these picture-perfect narrators who could never do any wrong – who are the pinnacle of what a good citizen would look like. They don’t just have a moral compass, they are the moral compass of their entire story. However, that’s not what real people are ever like. In reality, we humans are messy, we’re complicated and we’re far from perfect. All of these true elements of human nature can be found in Ottessa Moshfegh’s fiction.

I first encountered Moshfegh like the rest of the modern world did – by seeing the cover of her latest novel, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” plastered over Instagram, bookshelves everywhere and on top of the bestseller list of “The New York Times.” Finally, seven months after its publication, I picked up the novel at the public library and decided to give it a try.

I had read what the premise was, and at first, I was skeptical. How I understood it, “Rest and Relaxation” followed a 27-year-old woman in New York City in the year 2001 (yes, the novel does climax during 9/11) as she tries to fix her mental state by drugging herself with psychotic medication and sleep for a year. Completely absurd, I know, but the novel ended up blowing me away, and I knew I was in the presence of one of the greatest living writers.

“It was lunacy, this idea, that I could sleep myself into a new life. Preposterous. But there I was, approaching the depths of my journey.”

Moshfegh’s brutal honesty in the way she writes transcends how normal writers would want to convey their characters and bring the reader to a place where one, they understand that the narrator does not care what anyone thinks about them and two, that Moshfegh doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her or her craft. And what could be better than an intellectual, literary woman with a IDGAF attitude?

“I had no big plan to become a curator, no great scheme to work my way up a ladder. I was just trying to pass the time. I thought if I did normal things – held down a job, for example – I could starve off the part of me that hated everything.”

What I appreciated the most out of the unnamed narrator was that even when her feelings were unjustified, when she was doing the most crazy things, such as quitting her job in a hilarious way, or convincing her older ex-boyfriend to cheat on his current girlfriend with her, was that there was this honesty and truth that most people would never even include in their fiction. A favorite writer of mine has a sign hanging in their kitchen that says in giant letters: “FICTION IS THE TRUTH FOOL.” If anything, Ottessa Moshfegh only wants to tell the truth, no matter how hard that pill may be to swallow.

After finishing “Rest and Relaxation,” I had to find more of her work and consume it as quickly as I did her latest novel.  I quickly checked out her first novel, “Eileen,” and her collection of short stories, “Homesick for Another World.”  From there, I learned instantaneously that Moshfegh was talented from the start.

While listening to podcast interviews with her, as I often do with writers I admire, I learned that there was a lot of backlash against “Eileen,” for the way the narrator portrayed and spoke about herself. Moshfegh, of course, defended her artwork, saying that as a feminist, it was important to give her female narrators control over how they spoke about their body, their sexuality and themselves in general. To call the titular narrator of “Eileen” a pervert doesn’t quite do her justice. Eileen is a woman with urges and thoughts of a pubescent boy, who is obsessed with the mysterious workings of sex, but not interested in people in general. She has a Peeping Tom hobby that simultaneously humanizes and dehumanizes her even more than her daydreams of sexual escapades.

“Anyway, I don’t trust those people who poke around sad people’s minds and tell them how interesting it all is up there. It’s not interesting.”

The novel as a whole shocked me. It follows Eileen in the last week of her “first life” as it leads up to the events that force her to give up her original life, leave her town and family and start anew in New York City. Moshfegh hints what the big surprise is that could drive a person to abandon everything they know, but the events themselves don’t become present until the very end, which are disturbing, disgusting and deplorable. However, to say that those kinds of things don’t happen in the current American society would require some sort of delusion.

“Homesick for Another World,” was filled with snapshot-like episodes that could have been fleshed out as whole novels. Each time I came to the end of a story, I was left wondering what happened next. There were ones that made me laugh (“Mr. Wu,” “Bettering Myself”), ones that left me disgusted (“Nothing Ever Happens Here,” “Malibu”) and ones that left me just plain confused (“The Beach Boy,” (“The Locked Room”).

From reading her short story collection, I found that Moshfegh had an eye to capture the parts of the human experience that seem mundane, could appear profound and ultimately be brilliant pieces of what life is like for people – funny, dangerous and all-out weird. Who else could write about an old man who is attempting to catfish a young bartender to go out with him? Or a teacher at a Catholic high school who is not-so-secretly an alcoholic? Or another teacher who, on her summer vacations, uses meth very recreationally?

Ottessa Moshfegh is brilliant for the way her fiction describes the parts of society we usually don’t want to hear about. She takes the normal situation, puts it under a microscope and puts that image in an IMAX theater, where everyone can see all nasty parts up close and personal.

If you need something to read, then this is definitely a sign that you should pick up anything by Ottessa Moshfegh. She might make you feel uncomfortable and she’ll definitely make you laugh, but most of all, she’ll make you feel like your life is actually pretty tame (unless, of course, it’s not).

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