Monday, November 14, 2016

"Eileen"

This unusual book is a first novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, a writer who has somehow enchanted reviewers and critics in a way that seems unusual.  It was published in 2015 and so this comment is late to the game. It may not be as fawning as seemed to be required earlier.

This is the story of 24 year old Eileen.  Written in the first person, it is an interior monologue of a dark and sensitive life, one that seems completely abnormal to the narrator but may seem completely normal but not at all notable to an outside observer.  From bathroom habits and a finger licking ritual there is no routine ignored.  The reader can choose to see this as a metaphor for a life lived too deeply removed from others, or can follow the story line dutifully.  That means an early death for an alcoholic mother, living in squalor with an alcoholic father who she keeps in a stupor by buying his daily bottles of gin, and her life as a secretary in a horrendous boy's juvenile detention center, many of whose inmates are there for deadly serious crimes.

Has the fun started yet?  The story is so far fetched in its wretchedness that it becomes believable as a way of living that is rarely described.  Yet, as some reviewers noted over the last year, there is humor to be found in these pages somehow, if finely wrought cynicism works.  There are also observations in passing the are piercingly true("... the most dangerous individuals in prisons are not the criminals but the very people who work there.").

Opinions of the narrator can be indicative of cultural alienation that many are aware of as in "Those perfect, neat colonials that I'd passed earlier that evening on the way through X-ville are the death masks of normal people."  Or a thought about what we don't know about others, as in "I guess that is how those sick people get by.  They look like nobodies, but behind closed doors they turn into monsters."  That is not hard to believe.  "A grown woman is like a coyote---she can get by on very little.  Men are more like house cats.  Leave them alone for too long and they'll die of sadness."  That is not completely far fetched but could require a little more thought.

What is most redeeming about "Eileen" is that the writing somehow pulls the reader along.  It is well done.  Maybe digging heels into the turf, a reader comes out of the struggle and finally moves along easily hoping for an ending that is not too ghastly.  That is up to the aforementioned reader.

As is the case in many first novels of merit, the first half is easily superior to most of the second half( which has a major character or intruding phantasm that stays one dimensional), that is until a certain tension builds toward the end.

If chosen to read, be ready to finish it off in just a few sittings.  Read otherwise, it may not work.



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