MFA reading series continues with tale from Otessa Moshfegh

By Quinton R. Arthur

Staff Reporter

MFA reading series continues with tale from Otessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh responds to audience questions after the presentation. Photo Credit: Quinton R. Arthur

The Master of Fine Arts program welcomed Ottessa Moshfegh who read one of her latest short stories, “A Better Place,” at the Gage building on March 21.

Moshfegh is a published author and former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, who has written two novels and various short stories. She was introduced at the program by Christian TeBordo, director of the MFA program.

“Those of you who have read Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories and her novels know that she stares into the abyss only briefly and then climbs all the way in,” TeBordo said. “The reader is always behind her to the point where they have to consider some very real issues.”

Moshfegh’s story began with a brother and sister who were considering either suicide or murder. In the story, the belief is that committing one of these acts will open a hole in ground to get to an unnamed, better place. The caveat with murder is that it has to be the right person, or else consequences such as jail would occur.

The brother Voldemort and the sister Ursula, seem to be unhappy with their life. They constantly attempt to slowly die with poison berries they pick on the way to and from school; Voldemort by sticking them up his nose, and Ursula, by eating them a few at a time. However, the berries only make them sleepy.

The siblings live with an older woman. The woman, who refers to herself as their mother, is very bitter and angry. Ursula contemplates if she is the right person to kill, but then considers a name at random, Yarrick Yuskoka, as the person who will die to get her to the better place.

Ursula then goes on to find out that Yarrick is a real individual. She mentions the name to her mother, who recalls Yarrick as an abusive and dangerous man, and to stay away from him. However, Ursula is determined to find Yarrick.

After speaking to the local librarian, who happened to be Yarrick’s sister, Ursula finds out he stays next to a cemetery. He is an old man who is seemingly friendly. She decides gather the berries and bake Yarrick a pie to sedate him, then cut him up with a knife. The story ends precipitously with Ursula waiting at the door with the pie in hand, and knife behind her back.

“I aligned myself with the character so much, I just followed her voice while writing,” said Moshfegh. “I did not really intend for an ending.”

Moshfegh received the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award for her novel “McGlue.” She is currently a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for “Eileen,” the story of an older woman in the 1960s recalling events during her life when she was 24.

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