cover image Death in Her Hands

Death in Her Hands

Ottessa Moshfegh. Penguin Press, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-9848-7935-6

Moshfegh’s disorienting latest (after My Year of Rest and Relaxation) sends up the detective genre with mixed results. Vesta Gul is an elderly woman who has moved to an isolated cabin on a lake after her husband’s death—with only her dog, Charlie, to keep her company. Vesta finds a note in the woods that reads “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” But there’s no body to be found. While Vesta does do some detective work (such as using Ask Jeeves to search “How does one solve a mystery?”), mainly her mind imagines Magda’s life, to the point where the people Magda knew bleed into Vesta’s own life. Moshfegh clearly revels in fooling with mystery conventions, but the narrative becomes so unreliable that it almost seems random, and readers may wish for more to grasp onto, or for some sort of consequence. There’s an intriguing idea at the center of this about how the mind can spin stories in order to stay alive, but the novel lacks the devious, provocative fun of Moshfegh’s other work, and is messy enough to make readers wonder what exactly to make of it. Agent: Bill Clegg, The Clegg Agency. (June)