It’s the week before Christmas and Eileen is near the end of her rope. Her father is a delusional drunk, she works at a depressing prison for young boys, her mind is constantly full of dark thoughts and she cannot wait to get out her hometown to start her life over.
If you recall, I read and reviewed Ottessa Moshfegh’s short story collection, Homesick for Another World, a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. It was pretty vulgar and sometimes disgusting, but I appreciated the unflinching look at humanity that Moshfegh gave me. Eileen is quite similar, but I enjoyed it a bit less. Eileen as a character is perfectly realistic. She’s twisted and has some issues, but I could picture her as a living, breathing person so very easily. The way she presents herself, the reasons behind her actions, and her internal monologue were all spot on. I found myself relating to some of her less extreme feelings and really rooting for her to come out ahead even thought she wasn’t exactly a good person. The novel’s atmosphere was amazing too. I could picture Eileen’s home, the boy’s prison, and her neighborhood in all its Christmastime glory. The sights, sounds, and smells were all there. So, what’s not to like?
I think whether I read her short story collection or Eileen first, I would still have had the same problem– I would like whichever I read second less. The problem is that they both feel so similar. The “point” of Eileen’s story could have been condensed into one of the short stories in Homesick for Another World. Alternatively, one of the characters in Homesick could have developed into same kind of novel as Eileen. Moshfegh writes great characters and is amazing at exploring their personalities and motivations, but after reading both her books I feel like she lacks in the plot department. Eileen has its great moments, but it– like Moshfegh’s short stories– are basically character studies and many of her characters have the same kind of “dirty” feel. Is Moshfegh trying to say that we’re all dirty? We all have our secrets and desires? Or, is she just really good at writing disturbing characters? Either way, I like what she does… I just wish she would do more with the characters and branch out with the kind of characters she writes.