The following is an excerpt from an ongoing conversation with Ottessa Moshfegh
Peter Nowogrodzki: Okay … I wrote a little intro thing to give some context for the interview. I thought I’d just go ahead and read it and we can start off that way.
Ottessa Moshfegh: Great.
Peter reads: Ottessa Moshfegh is a writer who used to live in San Francisco.
That’s not true, I lived in Oakland.
Peter reads: Her novel Eileen was published last month by Penguin Press, a debut for which she’s rightly received much critical acclaim, because her prose is singular and very powerful. A Vanity Fair headline reads “Don’t Google Ottessa Moshfegh.” They want you to read her book instead. She’s more than a literary meme.
The article also points out that I don’t have an “internet footprint” or something like that. I don’t really understand…
Peter reads: Ottessa and I first met in June of 2014, at a cafe called Pudge Knuckles in Williamsburg. At that time, I worked for Rebecca Wolff at Fence Books, and Fence Books was about to publish Moshfegh’s novella, McGlue, a brutal and fucked up love story about a murderous sailor locked in the brig of a tall ship. A year later, I still recommend McGlue to anyone who asks what I’m reading (don’t Google McGlue!).
That’s not true. Remember? We first met at AWP in Seattle earlier that year, at the Fence table set up in the middle of that nightmare bookfair. I thought you were a very out of place energy there. Everyone else seemed greedy and consumed by the scene. You seemed different. My first impression: I thought you were about 24, Brooklyn book nerd. n+1 blah blah. Not that I’ve ever read that. You commented on my sneakers —
Peter: Yeah, you had on neon green Nikes. You were wearing all black.
The sneakers were black with neon, Nikes, yeah. Later Rebecca told me you had a crush on me. I said she could tell you, “Never gonna happen,” although to be honest there were moments when we hung out that summer in NYC that I actually imagined doing erotic things with you. But my revulsion toward men and sexuality in general at the time kept me in this really lame pornographic-fantasy frame of mine. The only sex I wanted to have was with someone like… Hercules. And I’d just be this melting Tinkerbell. Everywhere he touched me, yellow light would fill that place and then afterward I’d fly away…
Peter reads: We ordered strawberry iced teas.
Well, I recall that I went in to order because you had your dog with you. And I got you a large iced coffee which was the size of your head. And I was “off caffeine” at the time, so I got the strawberry iced tea. It was the height of my anorectic lifestyle. I think I put like 17 packets of Splenda in that shit. Disgusting.
Peter reads: I asked her what she was reading, and she said she didn’t. I thought that was a cool answer. We talked about her life as a young adult in LA and her life as a writer in New York and her life as a bar owner in China.
I moved to LA when I was 30 — is that a young adult? And I wouldn’t call my life in New York the life of a writer. It was the life of a slave. At the time I was pretty attached to my AA brainwashing, so I would bring up the God-concept in every conversation I could. Do you remember that?
Peter reads: I was surprised when she said she loved Bukowski. She imitated Chinese soccer fans, who she described as “possessed.” She was about to fly to France, and when I asked what she wanted to see, she said the gyms of Paris. A bulldog walked by and she made the observation that it looked mechanical, like a version of itself purchased from Best Buy.
We continued to hang out for a week in New York, driving up and down 2nd Ave from her place to mine in my tan Isuzu pickup with my dog in the bed.
You’re making it sound like we were dating, which we were not. Also you should mention that we went to a Fence party at an art gallery. My allergies were making me crazy on the way there. My arms were itching like mad. We parked and I bought something to rub on them. This all felt like some weird flirtation to me, but flirtation is not the right word. I feel that I was indoctrinating you into my world. With my allergies, my venom, the vulnerability, etc.
Peter reads: One night, after bad sushi and a long walk in Riverside Drive Park, I tried to kiss her. She wasn’t into it, said “don’t be weird,” then took a cab home.
This is not the whole story. It was a terrible thunderstorm. You asked to hang out, and I met you on the west side. It was pouring. Before we met I had texted you something like, “Just to confirm, we are making plans on a platonic level. Nothing romantic.” and you responded, “Yes, totally. Okay. Understood.”
Then bad sushi. You were like, “I’m not into food.” I hated you because I was starving myself on purpose. Then we went into a bodega and it stopped raining and I bought you some kind of interesting soda which you couldn’t handle. Then we went to walk your dog. In the middle of Riverside Park — deserted and late at night — you asked to kiss me. There’s more to the story.
Peter reads: Over the last year, we’ve exchanged a few sporadic emails.
Why not just say exactly what the emails were. Why not put them in? Remember your response in the park? You said, “I thought you were creating a boundary so that we could have fun crossing it.” I really thought that was the most entitled bullshit. That’s what the emails were about.
Peter reads: We met up again in the outdoor smoking area at The Standard in LA on September 1st, 2015. Ottessa had bad allergies and I was nervous to see her.
This needs more subjectivity and observation. Tell me more about being nervous.
Okay, thanks for your comments on that. Where are you going tomorrow?
I fly back to San Francisco tomorrow, and then drive to Reno.
In the Jetta?
Yeah. Have you seen my car?
No, you told me about it last summer. And you said you bought it and it was sort of a lemon and you were having some problems with it and you didn’t know if you wanted to return it or not.
Yeah, it is too late for that now. I have scratched it a lot. Just you know, when you drive and live in a city, your car gets damaged. I am a really good driver but… you know. Parallel parking, people are sideswiping.
So it wasn’t any sort of reckless behavior?
I feel like “the car” — the idea of cars, generally — is something you are interested in.
Cars? You know, one of the first things that I wrote which stunned me deeply was about cars. The cars were like members of my family. They became characters… I can’t remember it all, but in the final scene there was this gray Nissan Pathfinder SUV with like a broken exhaust pipe, which broke my heart, it was my mother. It was called “A Festival of Cars.” It was one of the weirdest thing I had written as a non-child — I guess I was 20.
Where is “A Festival of Cars?”
It might be gone forever. It might be in my papers somewhere. I don’t know.
I’m proud of myself for guessing — sensing? — that cars were significant for you as an artist.
Let’s go sit inside. They have a really sweet little diner thing and it is nice. It is kind of cozy.
Okay, let’s go in there.
Do you want to eat some food?
I already ate some like, thing.
I had a juice. But let’s just get something and split it? Okay?
Well, you order whatever you want.
If I was going to order something it would be like minimal, like fruit. Do you eat that?
So how is San Francisco?
San Francisco sucks.
I wanted to drive up, I wanted to see you. But I was also a bit confused as to what our friendship was, and if you even wanted me to visit you at all.
Yeah, I was really annoyed at you.
I mean, we’re over it.
Okay. Did you name the Rebecca character in Eileen after Rebecca Wolff?
No. Rebecca is not named after Rebecca Wolff.
Is there another Rebecca?
Rebecca of Rebecca.
Who is that Rebecca?
The Daphne du Maurier Rebecca, Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
Did you explain that in the book and I am supposed to know that?
No. Do you know that story? You would really like the movie. There is… actually I don’t think I have the energy to describe what that story is.
You can tell me to look for it on Netflix.
It is probably not on Netflix, but it is a classic. People study it in film school, blah blah. Anyway, it’s kind of a story of two women. And one of them never even appears. It is really good.
Oh, so the one that doesn’t appear is Rebecca? Nice.
Eileen, for me, is like a ghost print of Rebecca — not the character, but the name of the other text. For me it was sort of a gesture towards myself. The ghost print of Rebecca was that the book is named after her. And Eileen was named Eileen. I’m too tired to make sense of this.
This month is called ‘ghost month’ in the traditional Chinese calendar.
I have been talking about ghosts a lot.
It’s a good time for ghosts.
I have been having a lot of hallucinations recently.
I just see things when I close my eyes. They last about three seconds and they are extremely detailed and almost comic moments. I can’t even describe them — they just appear.
They are not really happening in my imagination. I just watch them happen in the way that you do with hallucinations and I can also see things. The one thing my astrologist told me —
Oh… sorry to interrupt you — I’m having deja vu…
Tell me about it.
Well, it had you and me. And we were seated in a yellow room, just like this one — what is this place, The Standard Hotel Cafe? And you said “astrologist” and then I stopped you to correct the term, because an “astrologist” is actually an “astrologer,” I think. Just this whole scene: you telling me about the story about the astrology reading — I had deja vu. Anyways, you should continue the story.
My astrologer told me that I get possessed a lot.
You spoke a little about getting possessed last summer.
Yeah, you told me you channelled McGlue.
McGlue would be a great movie. I think Eileen lends itself towards a TV show more than a movie.
I don’t care about that.
Okay, but I am just telling you I think it’d be a great TV show.
The waiter brings a plate of fruit
You are not into this? Not into the smoothie sample?
No, I am also allergic to pears.
Of all fruits, allergic only to pears?
No, others. I mean, I can’t eat pears. I don’t eat pineapple.
You don’t eat pineapple. Can you eat stuff that has touched pineapple?
Yeah. If people read this they’ll know I haven’t completely recovered from the bullshit.
Who are the trailblazers in your life?
I remember you talking a lot about your brother, but I don’t think you mentioned your sister the last time that we hung out.
She is awesome.
Where is she?
She is in Boston. You should interview her. It would be a better interview than me.
I don’t know how I feel about interviews. Is your sister older than you?
Yeah, and she has two daughters.
My sister lives in Boston, too.
Have you been to Boston?
I haven’t been to visit her yet. She’s only been there one year. She wants me to come.
You should come. Hang with me in Boston.
So, do you want to talk about the book?
I only wrote down a couple questions about it.
Okay, let’s get them out of the way.
To be honest I don’t even really have any questions about it.
You mean, not two? Like maybe one? Less than one, half a question?
Okay, McGlue is a love story — do you think Eileen is a love story? There is a line about not knowing what real love is…
I think she says that about her dad.
I wrote it down — he’s “incapable of real love.”
Yeah, she is saying that about her dad. But I would assume that she feels she knows now what real love is. I don’t know. I mean, will I ever really know love? I don’t know. The only love I can ever really know is the love I have for myself and my own life. Is that really true? No, of course not. Love isn’t about people — me, you, him, her. It’s life itself.
Where is the love in Eileen?
You know what’s love? The deer that stops her.
Do you like deer?
Yeah, I mean when I started the book I knew that deer was going to come.
Who do you want to play Eileen?
Someone not pretty.
I did an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon. He was like, ‘Do you think Eileen really disappeared and changed her name and everything?’
I don’t understand that sort of question.
He was wondering what happens to Eileen after the book is over, what the story is now.
And what is it?
I can picture her in this small house, kind of on a hill with big sky, you know? She is elderly, has a car.
What kind of car?
I was thinking she would want kind of a cool old car because she loved that old Dodge so much, but maybe something from the late 70s. Maybe a Cadillac. I picture her signing for deliveries in a room with French doors. She paints maybe. She probably does collage and oil pastels. And maybe gardens. I can see her pulling weeds or something. But I don’t know, I also hope she just keeps fucking with the world.
This piece originally appeared in the Full Stop Quarterly Issue #2. The Quarterly is available to download or subscribe here.