Excerpt of Summary from Goodreads
The flesh is weak; the timber is crooked; people are cruel to each other, and stupid, and hurtful. But beauty comes from strange sources. And the dark energy surging through these stories is powerfully invigorating. We’re in the hands of an author with a big mind, a big heart, blazing chops, and a political acuity that is needle-sharp. The needle hits the vein before we even feel the prick.
Homesick for Another World is a collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh, whose debut novel Eileen was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I have not read Eileen, which I mainly bring up because I find it interesting that I started this book on a whim. She’s a talented author, this collection apparently quite anticipated, but I first started looking into it because there’s a spaceship on the cover. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. The design hearkens back to old science fiction pulps, and I honestly appreciate this beyond how I was simply drawn to its imagery.
The thing that really held my attention was the title. At first, I saw it for its most surface level themes, based on a preview of the first story and the clear implications of the title itself. I initially filed the book away in my mind as “the sad book about sad people.” I didn’t mean this derisively, mind you, but rather as a humorous edge to put on a book unlikely to be uplifting. While there’s no denying that for the most part it doesn’t go to positive places, there’s much more going on than varied accounts of dejection.
The further I got into the book the more I understood just what these stories share and that there is much more to it than my silly labeling. In each story Moshfegh is tapping into a shared aspect of human experience that isn’t quite easy to put into words. It’s a prevailing feeling of discomfort, suffering, and/or unhappiness with one’s personal situation that isn’t unique to a specific set of circumstances, rather it’s common to the experience of life. It’s a longing for or realization that you want or could have had something different from what life is for you now. It seems to me that Moshfegh set out to see in how many different ways she could capture this feeling in an array of stories, all of which were quite effective.
Despite the above, these stories don’t revel in misery. They’re not happy, but that doesn’t stop them from being intriguing, funny, or even optimistic at times. While flawed, many of the characters have quirks that make them relatable or endearing, where you want to see them move past what’s holding them down. Others are predatory, toxic, or misguided and I feared for those around them. It’s a great credit to Moshfegh’s writing that the feel of each character’s perspective can vary so much between stories, presenting us with different ages, genders, and parts of the world that are noticeably distinct.
A recurring structure of almost every story is the seeming lack of a conclusion. Quite consistently we learn intimate details about our protagonist, the nuances of their situation, the people they interact with, their hopes, desires, and what drives them, only to have the story end a little abruptly. I imagine some readers may get frustrated with this continually happening, but I think it’s done for good reason. For me it highlights headspace the characters inhabit, leaving me as the reader to wonder what’s next for them after what they’ve just experienced. To end their stories in a definitively high or low place wouldn’t capture the spirit of the book to me. It makes them feel like slices of life, where we’re simply not privy to all that came before or will come after.
Homesick for Another World was a surprisingly enthralling read for me. I normally don’t like short stories as much as full length novels, but each entry held my attention masterfully. It’s a glum collection, often depicting grotesqueness or obscenities of human society as well, though in a frank and grounded light. It has a sincere, poignant, quality too, full of real longing and obscure joys that I could identify with even if I felt disconnected from or abhorred a protagonist. I highly recommend reading it.