I was no stranger to Otessa Moshfegh’s strange and sometimes uncomfortable stories before I read Eileen, but this novel takes the cake. Eileen is a thriller that is written from the perspective of 24-year-old Eileen Dunlop. She’s an odd character, perhaps because of her upbringing and her strained relationship with her parents. After her mother passes away from cancer and her sister moves away, she’s the only one left in their shabby, unkempt house to care for her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father. The most mundane aspect of Eileen’s life is her job at a boy’s juvenile detention center, which she hates but she doesn’t have much better to do in the tiny suburb in Massachusetts she lives in. Eileen’s days are monotonous; she goes to work and then goes back home. Her only detour is to the liquor store to pick up her father’s drinks. Most of the novel dwells on Eileen’s dissatisfactions and her bad habits; the entire time you’ll be thinking about just how strange she is while also managing to be relatable. Eileen is a train-wreck and as the reader, you’re a witness to her tragic life. The story begins to pick up when a young, recent graduate named Rebecca Saint John begins to work at the facility as a counselor. Eileen becomes infatuated with Rebecca. She is everything Eileen isn’t. Rebecca is pretty, well-educated, and likable, while Eileen is average-looking and awkward. They form a friendship that quickly turns sinister when Rebecca kidnaps the mother of one of the boys in the detention center and involves Eileen as her partner in crime. This would’ve been an exciting plot twist to Eileen’s story, had it come sooner and more organically. However, the action is short-lived as it takes place in the last dozen pages of the novel. The bond between Rebecca and Eileen forms so rapidly that it becomes difficult to believe that such a scenario would happen between the two of them.
The thrilling components in Moshfegh’s novel had great potential but were under-developed. Character development is crucial, and Moshfegh is brilliant at it. We get to know Eileen’s intimate quirks and desires well. However, too much of the novel was spent doing so. After much anticipation, the climax of the story arrives in the final pages. Even though the novel is slow-paced, I wasn’t able to put it down because I anticipated the promised dilemma, only to be left waiting for it, page after page. Eileen is Moshfegh’s debut novel; it showcases her strengths and weaknesses. It’s an honest introduction to who she is as an author. Despite its shortcomings, this novel is a page-turner and I’m sure it’ll turn first-time readers into fans of Ottessa Moshfegh’s work.