Saturday, September 29, 2018


I just put Sabrina on hold at CPL and I realized that I would not be obliged to review it and that while I had announced on Facebook that Flying Houses would be "retired" after post #400, I had not made any comment here for the limited readers that have found it outside of the social media publicity bubble I have (poorly) cultivated. 

It is prudent at this juncture to define the parameters of this so-called planned obsolescence.  It's not easy to walk away from the outlet into which I have spewed all of my misguided opinions, and so I will need to maintain a certain outlet: the current plan is to confine critical assessments to podcasts but since I haven't actually released one yet officially, don't hold me to that. Don't hold me to anything. 

This isn't about practicing law but it's related to that. I've learned a little too late that the legal profession is one of the worst there is. Actually there is no profession that seems "good" except for skilled trades. One thing I do not understand about life is how people get paid fairly. I don't feel good about any job when I get paid more than I think I should. Yet this is not a problem most people seem to have. And I don't want to work any job when I get paid less than seems worthwhile. It is very hard to gauge the reasonableness of legal fees. Courts will approve attorneys fees that are well-documented, and I am developing a fee scale for the cases I feel competent to handle. $100 per hour is basically what I would charge most people for most things. Yet it is rarely easy to determine the value of extraordinary stress and humiliation. Personal injury done on contingency (when I am able to believe there is a worthwhile case to be litigated--which is approximately never), simple bankruptcy for $1,000, complex bankruptcy for $2,000, retainer of $3,000 for various other matters. I could get organized one day but as noted above, I almost never feel it's worthwhile to get involved, and the work I've done for most other firms (apart from doc review, where you know you are worth nothing and low expectations are the rule) leads me to believe that every reason I gave for why I wanted to be a lawyer was based upon a miserable lie. I'm not quitting law because I still have debt. If I can make $100/hour consistently, 2200 hours per year, I'll pay my loans off in a year. Until then, I'll stay on PAYE.

I did not go into debt to start Flying Houses. It did not require an advanced degree, nor investment of any capital other than time. Time, unfortunately, is running low.

I am not sick, so far as I know, yet I am. I often feel as if I will not be around much longer. This is not meant to be a depressing thought so much as an empowering one. It is time to put my affairs in order. I have nothing to give but a small amount of money which will barely cover funeral expenses in today's increasingly expensive world. This post does not bear the requisite will formalities for enforcement. Holographic wills are not recognized under IL law. Yet sometimes one must peak behind the curtain and determine the will of the testator.  Here, now, there is no person that I would single out for special treatment, no one I would trust beyond my immediate family, and so dying intestate is not the tragedy I once considered it to be. Suffice to say, I will never be able to repay my parents the debt they undertook to raise me properly (though we will disagree about what expenditure of resources was actually necessary), and they should be entitled to everything I've made. Yet what I've made monetarily hardly amounts to anything. 

I often feel as if FH is my life's work, the work of which I'm most proud (even though perhaps 40-50 of the 375 posts are regrettable, and would not be published today). I have done some good legal work of which I am proud, but those instances have been relatively rare and not at all proportional to the enormous strain that the debt to afford the privilege has placed upon my being. FH is a good balance. It's not a great novel and a blog is not as significant as a published novel, and it has paid nothing, but it has helped a (very) small number of people and for that I believe it should be considered a public service. It's not Cliffs notes or Wikipedia but it's real. We turn people onto books here. We try to get people to think for themselves. We try to take the BS out of criticism and work outside the margins of publicity (except for a few notable exceptions, which have always been telegraphed). We try to be honest and we risk ostracism. We try to make people laugh and forget about all the parts to life that turn it into an unpleasant slog. We try to educate people about the great writers of the past and the present, and we have never claimed to be authoritative. We try to recognize the Best Books when we come upon them. We try to define and pin down what makes great literature, and we often make contradictory statements and hold contradictory positions. We try to be even-handed in our assessments, and we often come off as ambivalent or wishy-washy, as if we're not entirely sure of what we actually like or want. We put ourselves on the line emotionally with every review, all too cognizant that every single one of our Facebook friends will be put on notice of every single book we have read and may form attendant judgments as to our tastes and sensibilities (which, to be sure, are not always attractive). We try to show that we have capabilities that have heretofore gone unrecognized. We try to show love to the things we love, and indifference to the things we don't (while recognizing that hate makes for better writing but also leaves one more vulnerable to trolls). We try to be fair and we try not to be mean and we try to stand up for ourselves when others try to knock us down. 


I'm stopping because I think my work here is done. I tried, and nobody really seemed to care. Yet I'm also stopping because I want to do better. I've edited others here, but no one has really edited me. Accordingly, 90% of the total word count of this blog is garbage. I've allowed myself to be more disposable and present more problematic viewpoints here than I would be permitted in a major market publication. This is both a blessing and a curse (or a double-edged sword, or another cliche I have lazily allowed myself to dispatch here). I have tried not to sanitize my work for fear of reprisal, yet I have often lost confidence in my critical faculties and avoided overly controversial statements. I've felt lately that just saying you like or don't like something is not enough as a critic. You have to situate it within the larger conversation. To take a recent example, I am reasonably certain that my appreciation for one of our last subjects, Less, would have been enhanced if I had consumed the pertinent literary precedents. The character writes books spun out from classics like The Odyssey and Ulysses (really, modern updates) -- so was Less itself modeled after something of which I'm unaware? We can't all read everything but we can at least be honest about our backlog of literary knowledge (not claiming to know about a book because you read 20 pages of it and heard other people talk about it) and that is what I tried to do here. 

To diminishing returns. We started with the oeuvre rule and we ended with the referral rule.  It became more about publicity and my willingness to play guinea pig than literary contextualization and my desire to design a new system.


There's also very little original thought in the posts. Clearly, the best parts of FH are the excerpts, the parts I have not actually written. This is potentially a copyright violation ~x315.  Nobody has come after me for that, and I thank them. 

However, people have come after me for certain other things. And not for the things they should. Life is bad enough as it is, we don't need anyone making it worse. Nobody wants to see you succeed on the internet. There is too much insecurity and desperation and envy. They want you to fail. They want you to be as pathetic as they are. There's not enough economic space for the two of you. There is no easy way to get paid and build a respectable life and so when someone seizes upon an idea and makes it for themselves, there are naturally copycats. No one wants to copy FH because they know there is no money in books (unless it's about the White House). 

I told a friend today that I made my own Hell. I literally founded another plane of existence post-death. FH is that. Another place for me to live forever, fixed though it may be, and one day unable to respond to comments. And it is not a heavenly place at all. We leave the bad stuff there for anyone to see. I probably can't get a good job because of FH. I should probably remove the link from my LinkedIn. 

That's always been our aim in literature, hasn't it? To achieve immortality, to play beyond the grave, to leave a breadcrumb trail or mystery to solve, some other form of interaction. 

Before, I wrote to try to show people something I thought was beautiful. Now I've learned that is no longer necessary. No one cares what I think. My perspective is best nurtured through pathos and destruction. Or nothing at all.

I digress! Let's not stoop to feeling sorry about our demographic plight and using that as an excuse for our failure to obtain an opportunity to achieve success. We make success our own way. On the whole, it is patently ridiculous to claim that failure comes as a result of discrimination. For certain individuals that is no doubt true, and has been true for decades (women who didn't get a job because they had self-respect). For others such as myself, maybe we're really just not any good. Or "difficult."

No, the prose itself is weak. If I wanted to be a true literary critic, I would have completed an English B.A. and gone on to graduate school for that. I don't have those degrees, but I have other pretty useless ones. Still, my problem with English was that it was boring. I didn't get why it mattered what Canterbury Tales said about queerness or feminism or subconscious desire. Maybe that these issues had always been part of the cultural conversation, and never spoken aloud for fear of reprisal.

Now we fear reprisal but it is of a different sort. We're not worried about someone seeing us at an I.W.W. meeting. We're worried about saying something on Facebook that could be interpreted as having a conservative stench. We write people off without digging deeper into the context of understanding their viewpoints. We applaud the victims and we denounce the powerful as unworthy (or incompetent--sometimes rightly so). And sometimes we just don't want to like anything someone does, because we've made up our mind that they're a garbage person and they can live out their days in shame.

I can no longer wield this responsibility on my own. That is why I have decided to stop seeking your attention through my reading history. What I say doesn't matter. Obviously I think it should, but I'm not sure it should in this realm. I don't know if there is any topic that I can adequately speak to as an authority. I've always had a bit of a problem with that anyways.

There have, however, been some wonderful moments here over the years. The authors themselves have sometimes popped in to offer a "gotcha" moment (side note: I really hate how people have started to use that word to me, though I'm sure I've misread the tone). Most everyone has been charitable, and there have only been a few trolls who have tried to take me down on my own blog. The comments, by and large, have yielded several beautiful exchanges. 

Most of us will never amount to anything beyond our small social circles. Everybody will have their 15 minutes of Fame, but for me it has only been shame. I remember when there were only 265 million people in the U.S. Now it's 330 million--maybe 340 million. We have to make peace with the fact that we are Insignificant to the wider world. Really, the only people that care about what I do are the people I know (and many, I imagine, wish I had never been there to infect their lives and waste their precious breath and attention). There's probably about 50 people that regularly read the posts and most all of them are from Facebook. I really don't like using that platform for publicity. It is a necessary evil in this day and age, but it is not one that I wish to continue to entertain. 

I have enjoyed self-mythologizing and referencing prior posts with links and interacting with literary culture, though my name (and brand, as it were, which again must be credited to Scratch Acid) will never be uttered in hushed tones and reverential gestures. This may not be the appropriate vehicle for me, and I thank everyone for forcing me to figure that out on my own, rather than telling me that I couldn't. I'll always love books and I'll always read but I won't force myself to write about them any longer. My work is not done, but I feel that I have harvested everything out of this exercise that I can. It is time to say goodbye. I do not know what the future holds but my hope is that one day I will, in fact, do what I love, and not only in my spare moments.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain (2000)

For 18 months of my professional career, to this point, I've been a server. It's not an industry I'm looking to get back into, and indeed I spent the last free year of my life prior to starting law school at a restaurant. That experience is not readily relevant to my present professional hopes and dreams, but anyone that has done it knows that it changes you and makes you into a more ruthless individual (in a good way!). Like the rest of my life, I don't regret it, but I wish I had done it better at the time.

Enter Kitchen Confidential, which should be required reading for every student at every culinary school in the country, and any employee of any restaurant (that expects excellence from its staff). That may sound hyperbolic. And this book may be dated. But Anthony Bourdain did something very special here. It is the seminal, definitive book about the restaurant industry, and obviously belongs in the category of Best Books, even if it may suffer at times from literary pretentiousness. It was a pleasurable read from start to finish, and though I am no expert on the Canon, justifiably stands alongside The Art of French Cooking as a giant of its genre.  Had I read Kitchen Confidential prior to either of my serving jobs, it undoubtedly would have made me better at what I did, or at least I would have gone about it with less self-consciousness and anxiety (though one could argue these are inescapable in the situations one is generally faced with on a nearly constant basis).

The book starts off with Bourdain traveling to the south of France with his family in the 1966 and falling in love with food after having his first oyster. Ironically, this author shared a similar experience:

"August of that summer was spent in La Teste de Buch, a tiny oyster village on the Bassin d'Arachon in the Gironde (southwest France).  We stayed with my aunt, Tante Jeanne, and my uncle, Oncle Gustav, in the same red tile-roofed, white stucco house where my father had summered as a boy.  Tante Jeanne was a frumpy, bespectacled, slightly smelly old woman; Oncle Gustav, a geezer in coveralls and beret who smoked hand-rolled cigarettes until they disappeared onto the tip of his tongue.  Little had changed about La Teste in the years since my father had vacationed there.  The neighbors were still all oyster fisherman.  Their families still raised rabbits and grew tomatoes in their backyards.  Houses had two kitchens, an inside one and an outdoor 'fish kitchen.'  There was a hand pump for drinking water from a well, and an outhouse by the rear of the garden.  Lizards and snails were everywhere.  The main tourist attractions were the nearby Dune of Pyla (Europe's Largest Sand Dune!) and the nearby resort town of Arcachon, where the French flocked in unison for Les Grandes Vacances.  Television was a Big Event.  At seven o'clock, when the two national stations would come on the air, Oncle Gustav would solemnly emerge from his room with a key chained to his hip and ceremoniously unlock the cabinet doors that covered the screen." (14)  

At least the Dune de Pyla part (I've never really been able to enjoy an oyster like that).  I'm sure he wouldn't have known the town of Sainte Foye la Grande and I'm sorry I'll never be able to ask. Not that I ever would have had the opportunity. But Bourdain was cool. Actually he was a guest on the Turned Out a Punk podcast, which is one other example of his greatness. Hearing him talk about how he thought "Bodies" was a great song, or how Raw Power was an amazing album, filled me with warmth and happiness. 


Okay to be honest, my food service career spanned just two restaurants, and the first one could hardly be called that (Sticky Fingers, while an above-average barbecue joint, hardly qualified as good food). It was at the second that I heard about Bourdain for the first time. My colleague Mike mentioned something about him and how he was hardcore and used to do heroin. It was probably right around the time he started Parts Unknown. Much of the bad behavior detailed in this book (as emblematic of all restaurants) took place at Sticky Fingers. The second place was a bit classier and I have consequently fonder memories for it (except for the few druggies, thieves, homophobes, and power-trippers* I came across over the course of serving for a year straight).

Can we talk about homophobia? Bourdain realized that he wanted to be a chef, and began his career at a restaurant in Provincetown, MA. Later he was the chef at a Manhattan theater district pickup joint owned by a same-sex couple. There are plenty of jokes about taking it in the butt, but they are all meant to be brushed off. Even in 2000, barely a year removed from the atmosphere that gave rise to mass sexual assault at a music festival meant to symbolize peace and love, he demonstrates a compassionate attitude:

"But let's say you do suck dick, you do 'take it in the twins'; it's no impediment to survival.  No one really cares about that.  We're too busy, and too close, and we spend too much time together as an extended, dysfunctional family to care about sex, gender preference, race or national origin.  After level of skills, it's how sensitive you are to criticism and perceived insult--and how well you can give it right back--that determines your place in the food chain.  You can cover your ears all you want, pretend they're not calling you chino or morena or indio or gordo or cachundo...but they are.  Like it or not, that's your name, your street tag, whether you chose it or not.  I've been called flaco and cadavro, probably borracho.  That's just the way it is.  I call down to my prep kitchen on the intercom--calling for butter or more sauce--and that little gangster who keeps my stock rotated and makes that lovely chiffonaded parsley for me is going to reply (after I'm out of hearing), 'Fuuck YOUU!!' before giving me exactly what I asked for.  Better I say it first: 'Gimme my fucking mantequilla and sauce, motherfucker.  Ahorita...and...fuuuck YOU!'  And I love that little thug, too--the headband-sporting, baggy-pansted, top button buttoned, bottom button open, moon boot-shod, half Puerto Rican, half cholo vato loco, with his crude prison-style tats and his butterfly knife tucked in his wristband.  I have, on many occasions, pondered adopting him.  He's everything I'd want in a son." (221-222)

But you do not come to this book for the views on humanity. You come for the food. And while you may not find recipes, you will likely learn a lot of basic things about cooking and preparing food. The chapter on tools of the trade, and the items that any amateur chef should stock in their kitchen ("How to Cook Like the Pros"), will be worthwhile for anyone that has a desire to cook. It may also make you want to try to make certain dishes (such as when he asks Scott Bryan about his go-to late night drunk meal - beef bourguinon).

The writing itself is uneven. He would wake up at 5 am and smoke cigarettes and write for an hour or two before starting his legendarily long days in the kitchen. Sometimes the chapters feel sort of randomized, like an album with a bunch of songs that don't necessarily complement one another. There are callbacks, for sure, but there are also outliers like the long-winded story that is the chapter "What I Know about Meat." In any case, it's a no-brainer to add this to the Best Books list. Just thinking about him overusing the term "rube" or talking about "eating crow" makes me want to smile. 

Unfortunately, we have to be a big downer and talk about suicide because wow, does the dark humor in this book take a turn. Addicts, artists, writers, chefs, punks--each is predisposed towards depression/suicidal tendencies and Bourdain was one and all of them. And there are chilling moments that can cut one dead:

"I was utterly depressed.  I lay in bed all day, immobilized by guilt, fear, shame and regret, my ashtrays overflowing with butts, unpaid bills stacked everywhere, dirty clothes heaped in the corners.  At night, I lay awake with heart palpitations, terrors, bouts of self-loathing so powerful that only the thought of diving through my sixth-floor window onto Riverside Drive gave me any comfort and allowed me to lull myself into a resigned sleep." (154-155)

Am I the only one that has often felt the same way? There is peace in contemplating one's own tragic demise, to shame all that made a good thing bad. One cannot know for sure the impetus behind such gestures and we will not engage in hypotheses in this review. Suffice to say, he had that personality type. And there is nothing wrong with it. 

I could write a lot more about this book.  There's something noteworthy to excerpt or discuss every few pages.  Most of the comments to be made could center around banalities such as "I knew a guy just like that!" or "Isn't that story insane?" So we should resist the urge to give our own little personal take on Bourdain any longer, here at least, and end with a few his words about regret:

"I often use the hypothetical out-of control ice-cream truck.  What would happen if you were walking across the street and were suddenly hit by a careening Mister Softee truck?  As you lie there, in your last few moments of consciousness, what kind of final regrets flush through your mind?  'I should have had a last cigarette!' might be one.  Or, 'I should have dropped acid with everybody else back in '74!'  Maybe: 'I should have done the hostess after all!'  Something along the lines of: 'I should have had more fun in my life!  I should have relaxed a little more, enjoyed myself a little more...'
That was never my problem.  When they're yanking a fender out of my chest cavity, I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time.  My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.
I'm still here.  And I'm surprised by that.  Every day." (267-268)

Sadly that last part is no longer true, and the world is a little less comforting because of it.  Yet none of us will last forever, and while we may lament not getting to see the work Bourdain might have done over the next ten or fifteen years, or ever getting to meet him, he bestowed gifts onto the world that can be binged, consumed and dissected for years to come.  One should be rightly astounded (perhaps intimidated) by his body of published work.  Few could hope to reach the artistic heights he did while essentially retaining a popular appeal.  The great gift of this book is that part of him can always be with us, and we can look to it for guidance when faced with a difficult choice: what would Anthony do?  He would likely tell you specifically not to listen to his advice.  He would also likely do something great.     

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Homesick for Another World - Ottessa Moshfegh (2017)

Ottessa Moshfegh came to my attention through The Paris Review Podcast (Episode #7), in which she read her story, "A Dark and Winding Road." I hadn't heard of her before. Because Dead Boys and Try made the Best Books list (both many years ago), so too must this.  She is a contemporary, just a couple years older than me. I am jealous of her. She is a great writer. She is not boring. Her concerns are not trivial. Yet they sometimes are? It's o.k. She's hilarious.  She is hardcore.

Story collections often make for difficult reviews because there can be so much ground to cover, but like Dead Boys, the stories here seem to have enough elements in common for an overarching theme to emerge. At first blush (or second), one could write off this work as going for "shock value." And indeed, few of these characters are completely uncontroversial. The teacher in the first story pounds 40's and sleeps in a sleeping bag in her classroom after hours. More than one male character uses make-up to try to hide their acne. Crystal meth is consumed by several characters. Two older male characters half-stalk women they vaguely know and pine for. Few of them seem to have "enough" money, and none of them have lives that anyone would aspire towards. Almost every single one is flawed, and deeply so. Great literature often portrays characters that are internally flawed--they appear normal outwardly but something happens that causes them to become unhinged. Here, everyone is basically already unhinged. And we can debate back and forth all night about the merits of writing about flawed characters, but the sad fact is, from what I have seen, people just keep getting stranger and stranger. So this is a great book for our times, one of the best books I have read in the last couple years. 

To run through the stories: "Bettering Myself" is a story about a teacher in New York City, perhaps in a bygone-era, pre-2004 (smoking allowed in bars), who resigns for personal reasons.  "Mr. Wu" is about a man who has a crush on a woman who runs an internet "arcade" and who engineers a scheme to secretly text her and meet up with her.  Once I gave my sister a book of Raymond Carver short stories and put an asterisk next to all the ones I thought were most worth reading, if she didn't have the time or interest to read them all.  This story would get an asterisk.

Before we run through each of the stories, it is prudent that we include an excerpt, because the book is due back at the library today.  So even though it is probably the most widely publicized story in the book, one passage from "A Dark and Winding Road" particularly hit home for me:

"I rolled a joint in my car with the lights on and smoked it sitting in the armchair, in the dark.  There was no cell phone service up there, which made me nervous.  I don't know why I continued to smoke marijuana as long as I did.  It almost always sent me in an existential panic.  When I smoked with my wife, I had to feign complete exhaustion just to excuse myself from going out for a walk, which she liked to do.  I was so paranoid, so deeply anxious.  When I got high, I felt as though a dark curtain had been pulled across the world and I was left there alone to waver in its cold, dark shadows.  I never dared to smoke by myself at home, lest I throw myself from our twelfth-story window.  But when I smoked that night at the cabin, I felt fine.  I whistled some songs, tapped my feet.  I whistled one difficult tune in particular, a Stevie Wonder song, which is melodically complicated, and after a few rounds I could really whistle it beautifully.  I remembered what it was like to practice and get good at something.  I thought of how great a dad I would be.  'Practice makes perfect,' I'd tell my child, a truism maybe, but it now seemed suddenly endowed with great depth and wisdom.  And so I felt wonderful about myself, forgetting the strange world outside.  I even thought that after my child was born, I'd still come up to the cabin once or twice a month, just to keep the secret of how great I was.  I whistled some more." (76-77)

And later:

"The cabin hardly looked any cleaner after all that sweeping.  In fact, I probably stirred up more dust than I swept out the door.  I sneezed and drank a few beers and relieved myself again and used more hand-sanitizing gel and sat in the armchair.  I smoked another joint.  That last one was a mistake, because after just a few minutes I was picturing my unborn son crying over my grave fifty years into the future, and I felt the gravity of his woe and resentment toward me, and I despised him.  Then I imagined everything bad he'd say about me to his own children after my death.  I imagined my grandchildren's bitchy faces.  I hated them for not worshipping me.  Had they no idea of my sacrifice?  There I was, perfectly wonderful, and nobody would see that.  I looked up and saw a bat hanging from the rafters.  I went to a very dark place.  The oceanic emptiness in my gut churned.  I pictured my old body rotting in my coffin.  I pictured my skin wrinkling and turning black and falling off my bones.  I pictured my rotting genitals.  I pictured my pubic hair filling with larvae.  And after all that, there was infinite darkness.  There was nothing.
Just as I considered hanging myself with my belt, there was a knock on the door of the cabin, and a girl's voice called out, 'MJ?'" (79-80)

It's these types of interior confessions, as inimical as they often are, which set this book apart from others.  I'm not sure if Moshfegh always writes likes this.  She does actually show some pretty incredible range here, writing tonally different stories that are told from diverse perspectives.  She does have her bete-noires, and that is why I compare this to Dead Boys.  Her bete-noir is L.A. and the illusions and dreams that go with it.  She could also be lumped in, easily, with Bret Easton Ellis.

It is perhaps worth noting that half (7 out of 14) of these stories were originally published in The Paris Review.  Several others were published in The New Yorker, Vice, and Granta.  Only the last story ("A Better Place") is printed here for the first time.  This speaks to the quality of the work.  They're all fairly polished pieces in spite of (perhaps because of) their raw subject matter.  That is, they feel untouched by any editorial hands other than the author's.  Truthfully, the book is gone and I can't recall the specific subject matter of each of the stories but I will give it a try, and asterisk those stories I remember being best.

"The Weirdos"* is a first-person (nearly all that I recall are first-person) narrative about a young woman in L.A. living with her wannabe actor/pseudo-landlord/psychopathic boyfriend and the travails of their failing relationship.

Is it possible the male character from "Malibu" and "The Weirdos" is the same?  I doubt it, but it's totally possible.  I always say this (and it's probably not always true) but an adaptation of this collection could make for a great film in the vein of Short Cuts.  Of course the danger is that it would come off more like The Informers.  It would probably end up somewhere in between the two.

"A Dark and Winding Road"* is about a successful Manhattan real estate attorney that goes up to his family's cabin and ends up smoking meth with his brother's girlfriend.  The narrator may rank as the most personally despicable in the collection, though the story is also hilarious.

"No Place for Good People" may have the most endearing and likable narrator in the collection, who is an early 50's man working part-time at a home for the mentally disabled, yet he is also far from perfect.  It is mostly about how he takes three of his residents out to a birthday dinner at Hooter's.

"An Honest Woman" is reminiscent of the oeuvre of Flannery O'Connor (I have gotten halfway through the complete collection of her short stories, and found it an impossible task to adequately review) about a man in his early 60's with vitiligo and how he befriends his new neighbor and tries to set her up with his nephew, drinking with her and failing to hide his obsession with her.

"Slumming"* is about just that--a youngish teacher slumming it up at her summer home in a lower class town.  Again, could this be the same narrator from "Bettering Myself?" It's possible.  "The Beach Boy"* is about a middle-aged couple that goes on vacation in the Caribbean and comes back home to New York to tell their friends about it--then the story takes a ridiculous turn that probably shouldn't work, but ends up doing so beautifully. 

"The Locked Room" is probably the shortest story in the book and is about a girl getting locked in a practice room above a music hall with her boyfriend.  It is probably the most lighthearted and casually amusing entry in the collection.

"Nothing Ever Happens Here" features another aspiring actor in L.A., though this character seems more innocent and sane than those of "Malibu" or "Weirdos."  As usual the story takes a depressing turn.  "The Surrogate" is about a young woman that acts as "surrogate vice president" of a company in order to be seen as a sex object and gain a business advantage.

"Dancing in the Moonlight"* could be the best story in the collection.  It feels more epic and like an actual "story" than the others, as it details a 33-year-old man's Christmas day spent alone, conspiring to travel from New York City to Providence to buy an ottoman so that he can ask the woman he pines for to restore it for him.  Along the way he gets drunk with an older polish lady at a nearby bar.

Finally there is the tonally-different "A Better Place" which is almost fairy-tale like in its simplicity and feels very deep, bringing forth ruminations on a different plane of existence.  It is about a young girl and her twin brother, and how the girl speaks of her wish to return to the better place she was before, and how her brother tells her that the only way to get there is to die or to kill a certain man that their mother has warned her against.  It is hard to tell what this story is about, and it is not one of the best in the collection, yet it would undoubtedly yield profound interpretations if taught as part of a course on fiction writing.

In summation, and upon greater reflection, not everyone will agree that this deserves to be in the Best Books category. Sometimes, the stories come off as primarily comic, and secondarily serious, with little overlap or subtlety of meaning. Perhaps it is just because I give special kudos to authors of transgressive fiction for taking risks with their work, but this book did it for me in a way that few others have lately. I don't have much else to say because I haven't had the book in front of me, and I recognize that this is not up to the standard quality of a NY Times Book Review. I know I could do better, and use the first person a bit less. Moshfegh could do better than this story collection, too. That sounds like a weird thing to say but it's meant to be a compliment. Perhaps she'll fade into the ether, but regardless, she's left behind something beautiful, specifically because it's not.