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New Yorker Fiction Review #167: "An Honest Woman" by Ottessa Moshfegh

Review of the short story in the Oct. 24, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

Getting closer to being caught-up here, folks. Sort of...

Became acquainted with Ottessa Moshfegh last year with her incredibly captivating and dark short story "The Beach Boy." While this current story doesn't quite measure up, Mosfegh uses the same sort of dark, suspenseful "stringing-you-along" technique that works pretty well, even if it doesn't ultimately deliver anything, in the case of either story. What I ask myself is: does it really matter what happens at the end as long as you've enjoyed the ride? To borrow a great sentiment from my old friend Andrew (a master of contradiction): "It does and it doesn't."

In this story, a man in his 60s, named Jeb, meets his attractive young neighbor, tries to hook her up with his nephew, and then he himself tries to make a pass at her after inviting her into his home on false pretenses. All the while he makes vague, misogynistic reminiscences about the state of modern womanhood, etc. He ultimately succeeds only in being the creepy old neighbor, not in getting any action.

Both the main characters of this story, Jeb and girl, are a bit 2-D for my tastes. Jeb's corniness and his use of hackneyed, old-timey sentiments seems forced even for the character, and we never get a real sense of what drives Jeb until the very, very end: he's delusional. All the same, I feel like Moshfegh almost gets there with Jeb; almost succeeds in making him a real, 3-D character.

Same with the girl. Moshfegh is good at describing her build and her thighs and the way she walks and all that, but when the girl opens her mouth, something is off. Her dialogue and their interaction seem like bad theater. Like Mosfegh had written the story one way and then said, "Hmmm I need to make something more happen here," while not really making anything else happen.

All the same, I can't completely dismiss this story as a whiff by Moshfegh. There is something here. The story is ripe with tension, but the characters just don't quite get to it. Much like in life, they brush close to it, but don't address it or deal with it. But this is fiction, not life. If I wanted to see people avoid conflict, dance around each other, and ultimately learn nothing, I could just look at my own life.


Grace McQueeny said…
How in hell do you pronounce that name?!

Also, LOL @ the last sentence of this, ya goof.
Grant Catton said…
Well now...someone's reading the whole post! Thank yoU!


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