Student Picks: Moshfegh and Kuusisto


Terri Alexander-- Ottessa Moshfegh creates characters that make her readers uncomfortable. In the short story collection Homesick for Another World, Moshfegh’s characters are flawed, broken, even cruel. The stories are littered with illicit drug use, anonymous sex, and a gamut of bodily functions. But Moshfegh pairs low with high; she takes low characters and applies the high of her literary prowess. She’s wickedly smart, and funny too.

The dramatic tension takes place primarily in characters’ minds. Take, for example, the protagonist in “Nothing Ever Happens Here;” a handsome teen leaves his emotionally abusive mother in rural Utah to become an actor in Los Angeles. He develops a close relationship with his elderly landlord. Moshfegh writes, “After our fourth dinner together, I found myself missing her as I lay on my bed, digesting the mound of schnitzel and boxed mashed potatoes and JELL-O she’d prepared herself.” Uncomfortable yet? How about this:  “She made me feel very special. I wasn’t attracted to her the way I’d been to the girls back in Gunnison, of course.” The reader roots for the protagonist to become aware of his blind spots. 

Moshfegh tends to go to those places with her characters that most writers avoid. The result is utterly original work that is both raw and refined. 


Heather Lynn Horvath-- I first heard Stephen Kuusisto's poetic words when he read excerpts from various works at a writers conference this past February. To say I was hooked is an understatement. 

When I began reading Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening, I was once again drawn into a poetic space few books possess. A collection of essays, Eavesdropping is more than a simple memoir. Kuusisto's observations and his mastery of both poetry and prose offers the reader a glimpse of how he listens and processes sounds, so much so that I now find myself hearing deeper. He writes of certain music: "The sound has a thickness, like the fatness of certain flowers, and the sadness is redolent, you swear it has a fragrance."

Kuusisto writes of what it's like to be blind and lost in an airport, relying on the whims of generous strangers while feeling stares and hearing no-so-quiet whispers. He writes of traveling to Iceland and Venice to sight-see. The reader is given moments of rawness and vulnerability that offer ways in which to view everyday life differently. Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening is a book to savor and reread.