Thursday, May 26, 2016

EileenEileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Otessa Moshfegh is described as one of the brightest new voices in fiction, an NEA fellow, Stanford Stegner grad, and she is but this book is a hard sale. Her story is suspenseful -- I kept reading avidly late into the night -- but it is a bleak tale (and I love bleak) of a young girl who is trapped living with her overbearing ex-cop alcoholic father, working at a prison for boys, suffering an eating disorder and troubled by her lack of intimate connections until Rebecca comes to work at the prison and provides a "ticket to a new life...She was so clever and beautiful, I thought, the embodiment of all my fantasies for myself." What keeps you reading other than the edge-of-seat shenanigans at the end, are strategic references to the beautiful, loving life she lives now, fifty years later, and the superb writing: "She whirled off her coat as though in slow motion -- this is how I remember it -- and shook it like a bullfighter as she strode up the corridor toward me, hair rippling behind her, eyes like daggers shooting down straight through my heart to my guts." She notes the motto written on a pack of Pall Malls "a shield between two lions -- Per aspera ad astra. Through the thorns to the stars. That described my plight to a tee." The story winds up hopefully "not a direct line to paradise, but I believe I got on the right road, with all the appropriate trips and kinks." I am glad I read Eileen and will read her next book but it's a relief not to be the bookseller for this one.

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And for more bleak titles, Paul Bryant on Goodreads offers a "rich seam of female self-loathing in fiction:"

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirio - the unnamed un-beautiful older sister spends her whole life hating everybody especially herself
A Day Off by Storom Jameson - the unnamed middle-aged alcoholic frump spends a day hating everybody especially herself
Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill - the unnamed (as I seeing a pattern here?) wife spends a solid  year or so hating mostly herself
Dietland by Sarai Walker - Plum Kettle (hey, unroll your eyes, that's her name)spends her entire life self-loathing her own plus-size body
All of Jean Rhys' novels except Wide Sargasso Sea - the variously named alcoholic heroines all of whom are Jean, spend their allotted few months in each book totally hating themselves and pretty  much everything else (the curtains, the breakfast egg, etc.)
 The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek - the gold standard of female self-loathing against which all other self-loathers are to be judged. Erica Kohut spends her entire waking moments hating herself and everything else to such a level of frenzy that the women in the above-mentioned books would only look on in envy and loathe themselves a little bit more because they couldn't quite get to the level of loathingness Erica Kohut achieves with seeming ease.

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