” Death in Her Hands,” by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press)
Dark doesn’t even start to describe Ottessa Moshfegh’s newest novel, “Death in Her Hands.” Try horrifying, macabre, fashionably self-referential and extremely well-written– a book, as the publisher’s blurb says, that asks us to think about how the stories we tell ourselves both reflect the reality and keep us blind to it. Plus, it’s got a terrific canine.
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The novel starts with the narrator, Vesta Gul, discovering a note while she is out strolling her dog in the woods. It states, “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever understand who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” But there is no body. Even so, she will spend the remainder of the book attempting to resolve the mystery of its disappearance.
To do so, she should initially think of the remains. Then, determine how it got there. Soon, she’s envisioning a whole cast of characters including Magda, her killer and the author of the note, unless the latter two were the same– which she rapidly concludes they were not.
Obviously, murder isn’t the point here. Moshfegh, the well-known author of “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” has actually created in Vesta another psychologically vulnerable narrator in the procedure of coming reversed. Vesta likes to think about herself as “simply a little old woman, peacefully waiting out the rest of my life”– readers soon recognize she’s anything however.
As Vesta forces herself to picture what may have taken place, the writing tends to end up being required as well– perfunctory, composing for the sake of writing. Yet other passages are charming, filled with lyrical descriptions of the natural world and dead-on observations of rural, small-town life, consisting of the ubiquitous radio preachers and single-pump gasoline station offering coffee, bait and ice.
For better or worse, we invest a great deal of time inside Vesta’s head as she ruminates about her own unhappy life, from her strict childhood to her boring clerical task and disastrous marital relationship to a distant, controlling spouse.
Vesta is a misanthrope and a snob, with an unique contempt for fat individuals, particularly the other females in the local supermarket: “big as cows, whose thick ankles appeared ready to snap as they tottered up and down the aisles with their big shopping carts filled with unhealthy food.”
If you’re a fan of gothic fiction, “Death in Her Hands” may just be your cup of tea. If not, come for the dread– and remain for the pet dog.
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