Ottessa Moshfegh on ‘Lapvona’, ‘Resting and relaxing’ and becoming a fashion darling

When I stop at the Ottesse Moshfegh driveway, the first thing I see is a sticker on the bumper of the car in front of me: “Trumpet if you don’t exist.” I resist the urge to lie on the horn.

The author herself is standing on the terrace, all dressed in white and finishing a cigarette. Her home in eastern Pasadena, a historic estate in the Pueblo style surrounded by palm trees and pines, it serves as an attractive backdrop. It would be catnip for influencers – the same ones who started to wear conspicuously Moshfegh’s novels in one hand and a pastel Telfar bag in another. Not that it bothers her. “I love books as objects,” Moshfegh tells me through another cigarette. “I also love books as experiences.”

Moshfegh made a name for herself by writing fiction about it “Disliked or even repulsive” peopleand greeted as “Pioneer of a new genre of sloth” i “The most interesting contemporary American writer on the subject of being alive when it’s awful to be alive.” Her novel from 2018 My year of rest and relaxationwhich shows a beautiful but dissatisfied Upper East Siderka who has been trying to figure out her emotional baggage for a year, became a sleep hit – Readers living in socio-political hell seem to understand the urge to take a nap through life – and have solidified Moshfegh’s reputation as a literary “it” girl. Suddenly she was everywhere: on a Vogue Italy coverin print ad for Proenza Schoulerwalking on runway at New York Fashion Week. People no longer just want to pose with her books; they want to join Moshfegh himself. .

Personally, Moshfegh belittles Rest and relaxation hype. “It’s a good book,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s the best book I’ll ever write.” In fact, she is much more excited according to the medieval set Lapvona, her fifth novel, now published through the Penguin Press. She began writing a story about an oppressed feud during isolation with the goal of exploring the perspectives of multiple characters for the first time, rather than limiting herself to one “judgmental, antisocial” antihero. “I personally resisted thinking of myself as part of society and I think something went wrong during the pandemic. The balloon I thought I was living in burst, ”she said. “I wanted to write about the world, partly because I missed it and thought about it, and suddenly it was so interesting.” In other words, she woke up from a dream.

In the following, Moshfegh talks about her literary fame, her endeavors in the fashion industry and the craziest thing she did during the pandemic.

In an interview from 2016 The Guardian, you said you wrote Eileen as a way to achieve commercial success. Looking back, how do you feel when you decide to write something with the goal of achieving fame?

I think what people may not understand if they are not writers is that you can spend your whole life fighting in the dark writing short stories and no one will care. You will have to have another career. No one can build a career by writing short stories, except maybe … I don’t know, Edgar Allan Poe? But I’m not Edgar Allan Poe. Maybe there was something wrong with that Guardian the interview is that I had nothing to do with mainstream taste … My career was nothing. I had jobs in New York in publishing and then worked as an assistant to an oral historian. I would end up working in an office and I really wanted to try to make a living as a writer.

I got $ 100,000 for Eileen, and it was astonishing at the time. But now let’s explain that: I had to pay my agent. I had to pay taxes. I had to pay rent. It’s not that I went and said, “I’m rich!” I lived on almost nothing, so it barely took me above the poverty line. Well, I shouldn’t say “poverty line.” I am very happy to have a safety net, like my parents who would let me live with them. And I had an education… I mean, Christ, I had a master’s degree and I couldn’t find a job [in LA]. I think it’s my fault. [Laughs.] I didn’t know how to operate in Los Angeles.

You’ve been exploring possibilities outside the literary world for a while now, like when you walked for Maryam Nassir Zadeh at New York Fashion Week earlier this year. How did you feel when you were asked?

Flattered, scared and grateful for the opportunity. I am someone who did not have a well-adjusted opinion about my appearance. I felt that contributing and participating in that way in a public event that represented how things look, and what it means to look like that, would be healing. I grew up with so much dysfunction in terms of my body image and food problems, and self-loathing. I just thought it was like the universe was telling me, “Okay, let’s get over this.”

Also, do you mind if I smoke?

No, please go ahead. When you are asked to work with people in fashion and other similar industries, how do you feel about them using your cultural capital?

I offered it. Proenza Schouler asked me to take part in the campaign – it was just one photo – a few years ago, and through that experience I met a woman who is now my fashion booking agent. And last year my friend Jordan Wolfson, who is an artist here in Los Angeles, asked Emma Cline and me to be in the photo for the special edition Vogue Italy with multiple covers. And while I was doing that, I thought, “This is really interesting being part of the creative process as a physical being.”

I’ve always been a fashion nerd. When I’m procrastinating, I usually watch disgusting YouTube videos about any kind of garbage … In fact, I’ve started watching a lot of police interrogation footage. Just raw footage is fascinating, seeing those people who are inevitably guilty of lying for hours and then finally getting so confused by their own lies… it’s just the way detectives use all these techniques to get people to tell the truth. But if I don’t do that, then I watch old shows on the runway.

Were you one of those kids who walked the runway up and down the hallways of your childhood home?

No. I was always short. I’ve been this tall since I was 11 years old. So I knew I wasn’t going to be a model … my walking the runway was nothing. I was the only one walking. In fact, when I climbed the runway at Mariam’s fashion show, I went completely insane and forgot how to walk. I thought I was going to fall in my shoes. And then I went the wrong way. I was under a lot of stress.

Have you heard or read about the phenomenon of “book styling”? obviously celebrities hire book stylists to give them books to carry in public or to keep in their homes. In essence, it is about the aesthetic value of literature as a subject.

I mean, okay. Whatever floats on your ship.

It’s like a matter of branding. Do you think of yourself as having a brand?

Yes, because it appears in conversations with people I work with. I would never worry that something that was my idea would be “off-brand” because that’s impossible. But there are things that are not in line with my values ​​that are shitty, that I would not want to associate with. So I stay away from certain things.

Like what?

Like, I wouldn’t want to write on a TV show I don’t like, you know? I tend to just accept assignments that excite me or that seem like interesting opportunities the universe offers. I’m really happy with what I’m doing. I write movies, novels and short stories… and some journalism. I am currently working on a profile for GQand it was so a fun task. The things I do in fashion are really interesting and fun. I really don’t mind thinking about the usefulness of writing in a commercial way – if it’s interesting to me.

You don’t have Instagram or Twitter, but a few years ago I went to one of your readings and you said you were stalking these pages over an anonymous account. Are you still lurking?

It comes in waves, where I will put my name on Twitter to see what people are saying by accident. And there’s usually a lot of stuff in other languages, and then there’s usually one or two people who have their name in their Twitter name, so in the end I just review their tweets. There’s never anything really good, so I kind of don’t care. I think it’s a little self-destructive to work, so I try not to work.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever read about yourself?

I do not know. I can’t think of anything. I think that my feelings would be hurt the most by someone who would call me ugly.

Yes, it’s personal. It’s not even about your job at the moment.

Yes. I’m sure there were times when I was like a “blah” because I was raised to go back to crazy arrogance whenever I felt threatened. Like when someone says something to me, I generally hate it in return. And then I forget about it. Like, “She’s a fucking moron.” And then I walk grumbling or whatever, and then I forget.

What would you say is the most unobtrusive thing you did during isolation?

Oh my God. I was walking my dog ​​Walter down a side road near my house, and out of his house came a neighbor I had never seen before. He had headphones and a mask on and he was coming out of this gate that I didn’t even know was there. And I happened to pass by, and there was that very awkward negotiation about space, and I wasn’t wearing a mask. That was before we found out how COVID works, so he was probably really scared, and he started on this tangent as I was putting the whole neighborhood in danger and started shaking his finger at me. I apologized too, but he yelled at me once more, and it was as if the switch had been turned. I thought in my head, “I’m going crazy.” And I fell to my knees, and I prayed to God to forgive me for, you know, “disrespecting” my neighbor. And my prayers were so intense, and I prayed out loud, that I was shaken and started crying.

Wow.

I was still mad at him for waving his stupid fucking finger at me. In any case, he said, “If you were truly a spiritual person, you would wear a mask.” And then I kind of turned it around. Obviously we were both crazy, but I really got lost, and I didn’t get up from my knees until he was far, far away, and kept looking back. And I’m sure he thought I was really mentally ill… But that was probably the most unobtrusive moment for me.

It reminds me a lot of that Lapvona, especially the epigraph, which is from Demi Lovato’s poem: “I feel stupid when I pray.” Is there any connection between your messy neighbor and that quote?

I am a God who thinks. I keep thinking about God, so it wasn’t a weird accident. I came across Demi Lovato’s song – “Anyone” – on YouTube, years after she performed it at the Grammy Awards [in 2020], which was shortly after her overdose. So she starts singing, crying and has to start over, which is really hard to do. I thought it was a really intense show about crying out to God, for anyone to come and help her. And I couldn’t leave that sentence, “I feel stupid when I pray,” because it was so sincere, and then I realized it could be interpreted in many ways. Like, do I feel stupid when I pray because I do am stupid, and this is it my real nonsense? Or do I feel stupid when I pray because prayer is meaningless, and that’s stupid to do?

This interview is edited and concise.

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