My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Here was the crux of my dilemma. I felt like killing my father, but I didn’t want him to die.” Eileen Dunlop spends much of her time at home lying in a cot in her attic, the only justification for getting up: to pour her bottled urine out the window, melting the frozen New England gutters. Eileen is a dark book. It’s author, Ottessa Moshfegh.
“I couldn’t help but fall prey to the canned self-pity Christmas prescribes.” The character Eileen reminds me of Aubrey Plaza’s character in Parks & Recreation. If you’re reading this on my blog, sorry (not really) for all the .gif images. When Eileen is at home, she’s thinking of ways that she might die: icicle impaling her, wrists slit, car swerves, and that entire pleasantry. When she’s at work, she’s offering insights like: “A grown woman is like a coyote—she can get by on very little. Men are more like house cats. Leave them alone for too long and they’ll die of sadness.”
“It’s funny how love can leap from one person to another, like a flea.” As any young woman can attest, love is a struggle. Nothing quite highlights this like Eileen. Between her facial expressions mimicking ancient death masks and her quandaries about her “virgin nether regions”, she can’t quite manage to fit in—actually, not at all. There are no pleasantries given. To her, people that doll up and perfume are like “dogs who roll around in one another’s feces.”
“It’s the map of my childhood, my sadness, my Eden, my hell and home.” You feel sorry for Eileen; you relate to Eileen. Everything converges on her young shoulders: surrounded by boys who strangled their babysitters, lit their neighbors’ dogs on fire, poisoned priests; heckled by over-stuffed co-workers who aren’t even close to replacing Eileen’s dead-too-early mother; taunted by her drunken dad. Too much! As she writes, “if ever my father felt he was at risk for being pitied, he attacked me with an insult aimed precisely at my self-esteem.”
This is not Thelma and Louise. Think darker. This novel is a slow, methodical burn. 100 pages until Rebecca Saint John shows up to the prison. 140 pages until the hiss of the fuse. 160 pages until the flicker. Around 222 pages in: ka-pow! I won’t give away spoilers, but I will warn the easily offended and squeamish: you’ll be exposed to people with Oedipus complex and other such taboo and transgressive subject matters. “It’s remarkable what people become blind to when they’re in such darkness.”
“People will tell you the truth if you really want to hear it.” Eileen exposes truth. She does this, not just through her quirky idioms like, “People truly engaged in life have messy houses” or, ““It’s easy to tell the dirtest minds—look for the cleanest fingernails.” But Eileen digs into who people are: at work, in public, in their own homes, and inside their own mind. She exposes the consequences of what happens when pitch blackness is exposed to even the faintest of light. “It’s hard to image that this girl, so false, so irritable, so used, was me. This was Eileen.”
Thank you to Penguin Press for sending this book to me for reviewing. I had a lot of fun reading it and reviewing it!
P.S. Ottessa Moshfegh is a mysterious author to me. I know she’s won some awards, but her book starts “To X” and has no acknowledgement page. Odd. Haunting.
You’ll soon be able to see this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon, here: Eileen: A Novel