Ottessa Moshfegh is going to show her face in Austin’s favorite bookstore on Tuesday and it won’t be too difficult for you to catch a glimpse – because the thing’s always right there, as faces tend to be, on the front of her head.
And it’s doubtful the author will be wearing any kind of a veil to cover it with, to occult those pale brown eyes or that dark mole punctuating the noseward edge of her left cheek, as if she were a member of the U.H.I.D. or something.
Never mind that face, though: Moshfegh would prefer that.
“She refuses to have an author photo on the jacket,” the Penguin publicist Elisabeth Calamari tells me. “Not because she’s vain, but she thinks writers should not be judged on their looks, good or bad.”
Probably shouldn’t judge Moshfegh’s new book – her debut collection of short stories, Homesick for Another World – by its cover, either.
(Although you could, to nobody’s detriment: Darren Haggar’s cover design is, well, it’s terrific, isn't it? It’s one of the designer’s tabloidesque gambits, a bold arrangement of elements that perfectly evokes the stories within.)
And, ah, Christ, the stories within …
Vivid? Gritty? The sort of writing you might never fully recover from? All of that.
Maybe you come to this post with more prior intelligence than I had. Maybe you’ve already encountered Moshfegh’s debut novel, the critically hosanna’d Eileen from 2015, and so you’re familiar with the author’s relentless genital-warts-and-all realism, her bracing yet often lyrical rendering of human interiors, her almost clinical recognitions of the way our autodestructive species – compromised, scheming, vulnerable, lousy with unfulfilled desires – makes its way through the world it makes.
Then you’ll be in line for Tuesday night’s signing, I’ll bet. Unless you’re busier with something like the situations that constrain the people in Homesick for Another World: waking from another drunken sleeping-bag nap of erotic dreams so you can dribble assigned knowledge toward students in that room next to the nuns’ lounge on the first floor; arranging a hookup over the phone with some lonely stranger you’ve randomly called, someone you’ve been sure to warn about your bodywide rash; returning to the tropical island of a recent vacation to disperse the ashes of your since-dead wife and maybe track down the beach-boy prostitute that she might have, secretly at the time, fucked.
(Are you steeped in modern visuals, reader? You savvy synesthesia? You get what’s being described if I say Moshfegh’s work is like if Adrian Tomine’s next set of narratives captured the flavor of quotidian horrors suggested by painter Ivan Albright?)
And if you are otherwise engaged on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 7pm in Austin, Texas … if you have to miss this presentation – which would be your loss, because it’s often a treat to hear an author reading from their work, isn’t it? And this particular author’s face is, after all, not an unpleasant visual experience to accompany such a reading – tell you what: Make a later appointment.
Add it to your smartphone, if you have a smartphone. Write it down in your day-planner with a vintage fountain pen, if you have a day-planner and a vintage fountain pen – or use the chewed crayon your snot-dripping sprog heisted from daycare and scribble a reminder on this afternoon’s Wal-Mart receipt.
The appointment needn’t be specific, just a thing you’ll get around to as soon as you can, although the sooner the better: Buy a copy of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World.
And FFS, citizen, don’t order it through Amazon. Just this once, at least, Jeff Bezos doesn’t need your money. Go to BookPeople to get your copy of the Penguin Random House hardcover instantly, maybe browse the aisles while you’re there, grab yourself another compelling book or two.
If nothing else, you deserve that much.
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