By Ottessa Moshfegh
Review by Jonathan Trice
As a former bartender I have had more than a few patrons share stories that were extremely personal, many seemingly too personal to share with a server you met only an hour ago. You don’t have to be tending bar to experience this, there have probably been times at parties or on a flight where a conversation with a stranger reveals more about themselves than you’re comfortable hearing. Remember that feeling and you will understand how I felt while reading the novel Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.
The book opens with Eileen explaining how normal and just shy of attractive she looks, but that she goes on tell us that her life is anything but normal and attractive to others. This is where things delve into topics such as her body image problems, a home life where she is living in squalor while taking care of her alcoholic and mentally abusive father, her clerical job at a boy’s prison, her penchant for shoplifting and her mildly deranged and immensely colorful imagination. The story is told by Eileen fifty years after the events occurred that prompted her escape from the bleak coastal New England town during the week leading up to the Christmas holiday.
During this narrative Eileen looks back at her actions as a naïve 24 year old woman and realizes just how self-centered and melodramatic she really was. That’s not to say that her situation wasn’t terrible. In hindsight Eileen realizes that most of her feelings and thoughts weren’t unique, but the week leading up to flight from her hometown were definitely bizarre.
While reading the book I didn’t realize just how well written it was. Moshfegh managed to create a story that reads like a journal entry, but feels more like a conversation that Eileen is having with the reader. Since the book only covers about a week in her life, there wasn’t much time for complex character development. Instead you get a candid snapshot of the events along with the intimate thought process surrounding them. While you may not share the same discomfort I felt while reading it, you will definitely enjoy the excellent story telling of Eileen.
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About the reviewer: New to the reference desk, Jonathan is a recent graduate of the MLIS program at Drexel. When he’s not at work he can either be found in a tattoo chair adding to his collection of art or driving his GTi around cones really fast at a local SCCA Solo Cross event.