Wednesday 17 April 2024
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Randy Kraft’s OC Book Blog: “Death in Her Hands” by Otessa Moshfegh


Another inventive novel from an inventive writer.


By Randy Kraft

Otessa Moshfegh writes mostly about seemingly ordinary people trapped in bizarre circumstances. Her story collection, Homesick for Another World, features characters longing for what they’ve yet to experience or what might have been or might become in the not so distant future. Sometimes we see how that character interprets or rectifies. She’s a writer who doesn’t tell too much, engaging the reader all the more.

Her new novel is an expanded version of the same, in this case a rambling stream of consciousness reflecting what may be a rambling response to grief, perhaps merely a macabre mind, or, perhaps, an emotional revolution.

was meant to be published in April but was postponed, as so many works of fiction have been, during lockdown, and out this month.

The story line is sparse: an older woman, recently widowed, is learning to live alone by escaping to an isolated cabin surrounded by a forest where she has many memories. On a walk, she stumbles upon a torn snippet of paper which reads:

Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her body.

However, there is no body and no report of a death. The makings of a mystery, yes, and with a surprising ending, but for the most part, the intimate journey of a woman with more regrets than she has been willing to acknowledge. An opportunity to reinvent her own story.

We’d been married at a courthouse, honeymooned at a fancy hotel in Des Moines, where Walter was working on his dissertation. It was enough for me, I’d thought, but I didn’t know what I really deserved. I’d deserved what any nice young lady deserves.

She obsesses over the supposedly dead Magda and proceeds to invent a life for her. As if she were writing a fictional memoir. Whose story is it? That’s the prevailing question lingering over this inventive narration – a rational woman unraveling over the irrationality of her own life. DeathInHerHandsby Moshfegh

If you haven’t read Moshfegh’s earlier work, start with Eileen [highly macabre] or the brilliant, quirky, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. She is a master of the interior narrative, with simple prose that reflects simple truths.

It is easy, I thought, to find great affection for victims, emblems of vanished potential. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a squandered opportunity, a missed chance. I knew about stuff like that. I’d been young once. So many dreams had been dashed. But I dashed them myself. I wanted to be safe, whole, have a future of certainty. One makes mistakes when there is confusion between having a future at all and having the future one wants.

Available in hardcover and for your favorite e-reader. Happy reading.

Randy Kraft is a retired journalist, an active book reviewer and fiction writer. She also occasionally teaches and coaches aspiring novelists, and has been the OC Book Blogger on this site since its inception. Born and bred in New York City, Randy resides in Dana Point. Her first novel Colors of the Wheel published in 2014 and her second, Signs of Life, in 2016. In recent years, she has published several short stories in literary magazines and her first collection, Rational Women, was released in 2020. (Maple57Press)

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