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Moshfegh's stories are dark and sour, but never depressing. Her twisted sense of humour is refreshing. She refuses to satisfy our conventional need for resolution. The only epiphany that she offers is a confirmation of darkness.
This is a neatly written collection of 14 short stories. One thing that tied them together for me was the idea of friction, a word Moshfegh never uses, but one that came to mind over and over as I read the stories.
No one is without friction, and life in Moshfegh’s stories is so often about trying to overcome it or just accept it and deal with it the best you can. I’ll talk about two of the stories to show more of what I mean.
Mr. Wu, in the second story, is a lonely man who falls in love with the woman working at a game arcade. He watches her, he’s afraid of rejection. The life that he wants and the life that he has are out of sync, as they are for most of us. He finds ways to ease the friction — drinking, visiting prostitutes. The woman at the arcade is also lonely, with the same distance between what she has and what she wants. A match. And you can imagine the fear as misplaced, as a too typical story of fear being the only thing in the way of the life you want. But the story ends with friction re-asserting itself. Real life isn’t made of matches made in heaven.
The story behind the book’s title is the final one, “A Better Place”, in which a girl, Urszula, and her brother share a belief that they come from another place, not Earth. The only ways to return where they belong, and where they will be happy, are either to die, or to find the right person on Earth to kill. She finds the man she must kill, Jarek Jaskolka. Actually she dreams him up, but he is real, a “bad man.” If she kills him, her struggles in this life, in this place, will be over.
Urszula can’t believe that this is the world she was meant for. And maybe removing a "bad man" from it would actually help. But the remedy is magical more than it is real.
Seemingly all the stories here share this unavoidable element of friction, friction between the lives we have and the lives we want or expect, friction between our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes the friction can’t be overcome, maybe sometimes it can, but it’s always there — it’s a feature of life, not an exception. Life just might be a matter of learning to live with it in the best ways we can.
Deeply personal accounts of the good, the bad and the ugly. These short stories are "fly on the wall" observations of what lonely people do behind closed doors. At times, the details can be vulgar or depressing, then you can't help but laugh at the bitterness. I had strong emotional reactions to these stories - like raw, exposed wounds that made me squirm, but had to be regarded with tenderness.
These are weird and cathartic, but so well written. I love Moshfegh's writing! This is my second book of hers and I'll continue to read more. I'd recommend to anyone who likes dark humor and cynicism.
This short story compilation was hard to put down! Moshfegh's characters are lewd, raunchy, imperfect and out there. I enjoy her writing style. I was shocked at times, dismayed, disgusted and also thrilled. She is a great writer. You may not like her characters, but you won't forget them.