Cover Image: Homesick for Another World

Homesick for Another World

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Member Reviews

As often happens for short story collections, some are better than others, and the book's final liking is therefore an average. All Moshfegh's tales have a certain depressive quality, a tendency of the situations told to turn to the worst, somewhat disturbing and sometimes, in my opinion, forced. In any case, this is a great exercise of writing skills, very enjoyable as a whole.
I thank Random House UK, Vintage Publishing and Netgalley for providing me a free copy in exchange for a honest review.
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Abandon hope all ye who enter here! This is a truly extraordinary collection of short stories that shine an unforgiving unflinchingly honest spotlight on the less pleasant sides of mankind. All the characters seem to be horribly trapped by their circumstances, and so their raw emotions make for uneasy reading. From the schoolteacher taking drugs and sleeping in her classroom, to the husband escaping to his own retreat away from his wife and family, these are uncomfortable, brutally frank portraits of everymen and everywomen. Scrape the surface of what looks like normality, and see what lurks beneath the surface.
It does get a little hard-going, as it is relentless in its bleakness. It's like a really dark version of the Guardian's "What I'm Really Thinking" series. That said, if you're prepared for this plunge into the pit of despair, there is a lot of beautiful ugliness to enjoy within the pages of this book. A truly fascinating read.
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Really enjoyed reading this book!! I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
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Highly skilled, crafted memorable short fiction from a writer to watch, who is already being highly praised and lauded.
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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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I definitely read and enjoyed this book but as a collection of stories, there was a bit of a sense of repetition. While reading, there was a sense of "ok, here's another strange, unlikable character". In retrospect, I just remember an overwhelming "unlikable" character that happened over and over which felt like I had been immersed in an unpleasant world. Homesick for my own world I suppose. So it works!
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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...
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I did not enjoy this book. It was, as the other reviewers had pointed out, full of "nasties". 
I thought that, perhaps, there will be a good reason for their appearances in the stories, but I could not find it.
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Honest weirdness
Homesick for Another World: Stories

By Kel Munger 
kelm@newsreview.com


This article was published on 03.02.17.

Readers who loved Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel Eileen will definitely want to pick up this collection of fourteen stories, many of which appeared in The Paris Review and The New Yorker. As dark as the themes in Homesick for Another World: Stories ($26, Penguin Press) are, Moshfegh’s humor is still darker; we may feel guilty when we smirk or chuckle, but smirk or chuckle we must. Whether it’s the hipster dude whose relationship with a high-end furniture dealer requires him to track down an ottoman, a high school English teacher who slums with junkies, or a new widower who starts to question everything when he looks at his late wife’s recent vacation photos, these stories will show us just how normal our weirdnesses are, at least when they’re accompanied by authentic emotion.
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Ms. Moshfegh's novel Eileen was an astounding work; taut, precise, and populated with characters whose motivations and personhoods were accessible, if disturbing.  This collection of short stories, however, does not present or fulfill the promises made by Eileen.  There was a point when, about halfway through this work, another unsympathetic, opaque character slobbed their way through a vignette populated with dirty dildos and meth heads when I just had to give this up as good money after bad. Because Ms. Moshfegh is such a brilliant writer (hence the three stars) you can smell the BO and stale cigarettes from the page but the unrelenting bleakness and shabbiness of these worlds was ultimately not worth it.
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Short story collection finds the exquisite within the unpleasant

When reading a collection of short stories, one often discovers a bit of variance in terms of overall quality. That is, there will be a story or two or three that really sing, inspiring deep-felt and ongoing reactions, while others never quite achieve that same sort of resonance. It’s not a reflection on overall quality, per se; more like a breadth of literary impact.

Reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Homesick for Another World” (Penguin, $26) is something else entirely. This is a collection that lashes out with dexterous prose and narrative surprise. These narratives are constantly peeling back the layers of the human condition, pulling away the facades and revealing an underneath that is often unsettling and/or unpleasant. The 14 stories here are representative of an author considered by many to be among the finest writers of short fiction currently working.

“Bettering Myself” leads the collection off, introducing the reader to a broken teacher possessed of questionable motivation and even more questionable judgment. “Malibu” illustrates the self-destructive tendencies of a young woman untethered to any real sense of true want. With “No Place for Good People,” Moshfegh gives us a portrait of a man doing something seemingly altruistic for selfish reasons, maintaining an underlying sense of superiority regarding the developmentally disabled adults for whom he cares.

“Strange Woman” looks at the mindset of an older man’s developing fascination with a female neighbor that quickly devolves into a quagmire of creepy self-delusion, while “The Surrogate” is an odd tale of a young woman hired to serve as the face of a company due to the business’s Asian owner fearing discrimination on the part of potential partners. In “The Locked Room,” we bear witness to the ugliness that can spring from the unwanted acceleration of intimacy due to uncontrollable and unanticipated outside influences.

And so on and so forth.

Moshfegh’s work largely defies traditional summary; attempting to synopsize the myriad textual and subtextual facets of these stories simply cannot do them justice. Even more than most well-wrought literature, these tales transcend plot; they contain legions. The sophisticated characterization and thematic depth on display here is inescapable.

The reality is that most if not all of Moshfegh’s protagonists – one struggles to call them “heroes” – are fundamentally broken; that brokenness manifests itself in ways that range from mildly off-putting to outright disturbing.

Moshfegh is unafraid to embrace the visceral aspects of that brokenness, either – there’s a recurring grossness that is both physical and emotional. Unhygienic imagery – dirty fingernails and body odor and squeezed pustules are abundant – meshes with constantly-exposed personality flaws and creates intimate portraits that are queasily compelling despite their inherent nastiness.

Mining beauty from the unbeautiful is one of the more difficult things an artist can attempt, yet Moshfegh accomplishes the feat with ease. The readability of these stories is such that they generate a sort of car-crash compulsion – one simply cannot look away. Rendered in exquisitely scattershot prose such as this, even the darkest shadows invite our inspection. Every single one of these pieces not only scoffs at all that is the literary anodyne, but actively, almost gleefully undercuts it.

“Homesick for Another World” is challenging, confrontational work. Each one of these stories shines with a cracked-mirror bleakness that slices the reader to the emotional quick. And all 14 of Moshfegh’s final lines leave us wrung-out and strained … and eager to tackle the next one.
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One appealing factor of short stories is that the author can concentrate on character development more than actual plots.  This author does just that - even though the characters weren't very likeable (to be charitable) in these stories.
 
I think the stories could have used a bit more plot to offset the rather strange and crude characters and settings.
 
Some people will undoubtedly like these stories more than I did.  I didn't hate them - but didn't really like them either.
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Ottessa Moshfegh does a great job creating the characters in her stories. The plots are simple and to the point, and each story is a quick read. My problem is the content of the stories aren’t something I’m comfortable with. While I enjoyed the character descriptions I detested what the characters did. I enjoy reading about other lifestyles and places, but this one wasn’t enjoyable. I felt like I was in the underbelly of humanity; cheap rooms and rough areas; out late in the night to meet total strangers. 
While I applaud her writing skills, I didn’t enjoy the content of Moshfegh’s writing. Others should at least give it a try, though. We all have unique opinions. I didn’t enjoy the book but I don’t want to persuade others to avoid it.
(I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thank you to Penguin Press and NetGalley for making it available.)
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Thanks for my copy. I loved Eileen--it made my best-of-year-list, but I am not the reader for this book. I'm passing on reviewing it and I don't like to write negative reviews. Thanks again.
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I was going to say "unique" or "intriguing" but what I want to say is "disturbing". Why? Because the characters are so pedestrian, and yet they are anything but-- they do and say and like things that make me uncomfortable, and that is the beauty of this collection. It is weird. It is truly, often, disturbing. It is well-written and cohesive and un-put-downable and I wish, wish, wish I could write like Moshfegh. So cliche to say she is raw and true... but I don't have better words to describe how I feel. I am impressed. I will keep reading, even when what I'm reading is difficult to read.
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I very rarely don’t finish a book that I have started, but this book was one of those few.  I got about a third of the way through and then had to stop.  
First, I must say that the writing is very good – and maybe that is my problem.  The characters are all very vividly brought to life, in very little space – as is important in a short story.  However, I would rather they had remained a lot less vivid and / or memorable.  None of the characters is a particularly bad person, and they may even be similar to people you have met, but are lucky enough not to know well.  There is so much self-loathing here, and when the characters are not loathing themselves, they tend to loathe those around them – often those who probably thought they were the “nearest and dearest”.  
The book portrays a very depressing and nihilistic view of humanity.  Perhaps this is what we would discover humanity is really like, if we could read our neighbour’s inner most thoughts.  Personally, I would prefer to maintain the “illusion” of civility and society, and leave this book to other readers with a stronger constitution than I.
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