Fantastically dark and quirky and so happily removed from some of the twee literature that seems to need to be written and read lately. Moshfegh's writing is gritty, cool, and not in some contrived way but because it needs to be, it's genuine. And she does it so masterfully. It's not some throw your hands up token social cause, it's not so faulty, obvious. Eileen and Moshfegh herself are very concerned with the matter of women's bodies: the dirty, deep-seated relation we have with them; what Sartre would call the 'slimey' nature of them. The reality of them as well as the complete alien disconnection we feel towards them, or are positioned to have more accurately. I really felt a strong connection to this book, to this clueless but also brave young woman, who has those parents, and her futile relationship to her father and his alcoholism. Eileen isn't polished, no excuses are made: she and this book have been accused of being 'gross': I remember when this was published and doing the rounds for the Man Booker people having such strong reactions to Eileen. But I didn't find her out of the ordinary--we, humans, are a bit gross, but labelling this book in that way casts it off as merely a trick.
Set in the 60s somewhere in New England, Eileen is 24, her mother is dead and she walks around wearing her mother's clothing. She sticks dead mice in her glove box. She purges after countless laxatives. Her sister, Joanie, the pretty one, fled home as soon as she could. She lives with her drunk father, buying him bottles of gin daily and works in a male juvenile prison at the desk. Her house is filthy. Her paranoid father sees things, gets outside to make neighbourhood trouble, but because he's an ex-cop, he gets just respect, affectionate reprimands. She fucking hates him, she imagines the icicles in their threshold driving into the gristle of his neck. She drives an old dodge, which with its dodgy exhaust, slowly suffocates her every time she drives. She is painfully embarassed by her body. Her life is dull and monotonous and she needs to run away, and as her 70-year old self narrates, she will. But not before Rebecca comes along. Rebecca is beautiful and smart, she is everything Eileen wants to be and everything she can admire. She is mysterious and alluring. And so we have a literary thriller, but again, to label it as that would be too simple. As cloying as the perfumes Eileen laughs at us for wearing to cover our organic, decomposing bodies. It's all so claustrophobic for Eileen: her body, the town, the boys' prison, her father, her family. This is about breaking free of the confines--of removing the slime, as it were. Eileen states: 'This is the story of how I disappeared.'
Just the writing itself is amazing. It is thrilling--smart and controlled. From the tone of the character, which is so pitch perfect, realistic, and unique, to the way she drops hints and builds suspense. It is both beautifully written AND a suspense. How exciting, refreshing, to find a young writer and a new career to follow. One of the best contemporary books I've read. Onwards to My Year of Rest and Relaxation.