“ONLY A MASSIVE shock would wake him up,” Eileen thinks after killing a woman with tranquilizers and deciding to frame her father. “If he believed he’d killed an innocent woman, that might be enough to shake him. Then he might see the light, accept the truth of his condition.” Eileen (2015) is difficult to read, not for the simple reason that its titular character is immoral or disgusting but because we intimately understand her motivation for patricide. “Of all the characters in the book, Eileen is the one I relate to,” author Ottessa Moshfegh has said. What repels readers from Eileen also incites a compulsion to stay with her. “I like writing about the things that people spend their whole lives trying to pretend aren’t there,” Moshfegh told another interviewer. We can’t stand to look at Eileen because of our affinity with her, because Moshfegh has recorded every moment of shame of a person who is—murder aside—fairly typical. After all, Eileen asks, hasn’t everyone thought about killing their father? Moshfegh has said in interviews that she is “channeling a voice” when she writes, that part of her is “just a conduit” for this supposedly “divine voice”: “When I started intellectualizing, the voice shut down. […] I just write down what the voice has to say.” Moshfegh considers this process her “predetermined destiny,” although it seems more plausible that she just hasn’t heard of the bicameral mind. Eileen, we are to understand, is one of the characters that has “appeared” to Moshfegh as she writes. She refers to Eileen as her “freak book” dressed up in a “spiffy noir package” and admits to having “disguised the ugly truth” about Eileen’s innermost thoughts—the true story she wanted to write—in a commercial project. So, in 2015, Moshfegh published a book that studied what might motivate someone to commit patricide. As it turns out, this despicable woman was not alienating: Eileen was short-listed for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel. It was ironic, really, that the book was so well […]
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