Between this, the novella McGlue, and the Man Booker-shortlisted Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh has quickly proven herself a virtuoso at painting characters in snap-portraits, through their physical gestures and momentary reactions. And those portraits are rarely pretty. Still, in this compilation of her stories—work originally printed in sources like the Paris Review, Harper’s, and the New Yorker—even the most off-putting people can give you perfect punchline after perfect punchline. At the very least, the people in these stories will linger in your mind for weeks, for months, maybe—we’ll see—for years. Their thoughts are often dark and uncomfortable, but their lives are so tactile that you can’t help but feel strongly for (and see yourself in) the worlds she envisions, with their petty aggravations and all.
If, as his book claims, “a man with a good story is practically a king,” then Agualusa is practically a king, because here’s a wonderful story, inventively told, tricky in tone, and gripping on every page. During the Angolan Civil War, a reclusive woman walls herself up inside her high-rise apartment and lives by her wits, shut away from the world for decades. You get extracts of the poetry she writes on the wall, episodes where she hunts chickens from lower-down apartment balconies, and extended glimpses into the lives of the city inhabitants she spies out in the street. By the end, every thread is connected, without any wasted ambition and with a breeziness that only enhances the narrative’s depth.
What does it mean to be one of the thousands of migrant workers whose labor allows modern metropolises like Dubai and Abu Dhabi to prosper? This novel (or story collection where all the tales are fragments of a grander narrative arc) has answers in spades. Some pieces simply, evocatively list occupations. Others spin wild, disturbing, and literally shape-shifting allegories from their fragile existences. Unnikrishnan has been compared to George Saunders for good reason -- he has the same social acuity, the same dark magic, and the same comic spark.