Bored to Life
by Ottessa Moshfegh
$25.95 List Price
Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrators exhibit a curious combination of extreme moral nihilism and a desperate need for violent, unforgettable experiences. Eileen, her new and best novel, is a love story told by a young woman who doesn’t understand love and who is leaving behind the only man she really loves, her father. Eileen hates her father, too. He is an abusive alcoholic, who bullies and even assaults his teenage daughter: “In my last years with him my father would occasionally wrap his flat hands around my pencil-thin throat and threaten that he could squeeze the life out of me any time he felt like it.” Eileen, both disturbed and disturbing, flees her home early on, but not for the reasons you’d expect. She wonders if she might have stayed in her small town—curiously named X-ville—if her father had only been a bit more violent.
Eileen’s problem is that she finds life boring; what Eileen never considers—and this is where Moshfegh’s gifts for dramatic irony and moral subtlety are especially apparent—is that Eileen herself may be boring. X-ville and her father are pretty horrible, but the real problem is just . . . Eileen. Moshfegh shows us, with this character, the dangerous connections between boredom and nihilism. Eileen has no real convictions, no real aspirations. She’s like Nietzsche’s “last man,” who asks, “What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” and then blinks. Only one thing makes sense to her: sensations. She wants experience, especially physical, material experience.
Boredom is Moshfegh’s great theme and her aesthetic: As yellow was