Lapvona

Ottessa Moshfegh. Penguin Press, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-30026-8

Moshfegh’s deliriously quirky medieval tale (after Death in Her Hands) revolves around a disabled shepherd boy’s test of faith. Marek, 13, is abused by his father and raised by Ina, a midwife and witch who once nursed him as an infant. Still, Marek possesses a childlike faith in God. He’ll need it. All is not well in the fiefdom of Lapvona: a plague ravages the people, a drought sours the earth, starvation spreads, and high atop a hill overlooking the village sits greedy Lord Villiam, a man who “believe[s] that his appetite [is] nothing but a physical symptom of his greatness” and consequently hoards all the food. Down below, Ina trades villagers psychedelic mushrooms for bread and eggs, and the mushrooms give people alternately visions of heaven and hell, either a respite from or an enhancement of the daily nightmare wrought on them by Villiam. Moshfegh’s picture of medieval cruelty includes unsparing accounts of torture, rape, cannibalism, and witchcraft, and as Marek grapples with the pervasive brutality and whether remaining pure of heart is worth the trouble—or is even possible—the narrative tosses readers through a series of dizzying reversals. Throughout, Moshfegh brings her trademark fascination with the grotesque to depictions of the pandemic, inequality, and governmental corruption, making them feel both uncanny and all too familiar. It’s a triumph. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (June)