My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Anne Diebel writes:

Ottessa Moshfegh likes to write about ugliness. Many of her characters are physically unattractive, and fixated on their defects. The narrator of Eileen, Moshfegh’s second novel, published in 2016, is fond of staring in the mirror, examining her ‘jagged’ figure with its ‘unwieldy’ flesh, her face marked with ‘soft, rumbling acne scars’, her ‘horselike’ mouth. Moshfegh’s story collection Homesick for Another World, published in 2017, is a compendium of the ways people can feel, and truly be, ugly. In ‘An Honest Woman’, an old man with vitiligo lusts after his pretty new neighbour. As they chat over a chain-link fence, she eyes the ‘crepey, spotted skin on his thin arms’, and notices that his smile exposes ‘the deep rot of his clawlike teeth’, which are ‘nearly black along the gums’. The narrator of ‘Malibu’ is ‘good-looking’, but obsesses over his pimples, his bad teeth, his full-body rash, his pudginess. The narrator of ‘The Surrogate’ looks like Christie Brinkley but is racked with shame about a pituitary condition that makes her labia swell. ‘Ha ha,’ one lover says, poking. ‘You have more than meets the eye.’

(LRB 13 September 2018)

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