woman boxer

When I was halfway through writing my last blog post, I took a break from the computer. I went for a run. Thoughts on the novel Death in Her Hands, by Ottessa Moshfegh, were flowing through my mind.

Revelation

As I was running, it came to me. The loose pieces of the novel came together. It made sense. Finally! This was more than two weeks after I had finished it. For two weeks, I had been mulling this strange book over. But clarity did not come until I wrote and ran.

A one-two punch!

Writing and running: a winning combo for the brain!

Disappointment

“The concluding sequence shines, but the majority of the novel falls flat. . . . One hopes that Moshfegh will one day write a novel that rivals the perfection of her shorter works. The wait for that day continues.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

Interestingly, I had the opposite experience to this reviewer. As I read the novel, I felt that the majority of the novel shined, but the concluding sequence, while beautifully crafted, left me forlorn, confused, and unfulfilled.

It was only by engaging my brain in the two-punch process of writing and then running that I was able to access the secrets of the novel, and its signifying power.

Secrets

The secret to my finally understanding the novel was twofold. First, I had to read between the lines. The things the protagonist assumes to be important are not; the things the protagonist assumes to be inconsequential or unworthy of her attention are where the meaning lies.

Second, I had to read the concluding sequence symbolically, and in light of the seemingly trivial, but actually vitally important, facts.

It was like doing psychoanalysis on a fictional character. I should have put the book on a couch and sat beside it with crossed legs, a notepad, and a stoic expression. (Maybe that would have been as productive as the writing-running double punch! Haha.)

So anyway, finally, finally, I must disagree with the reviewer I quoted above. This novel is perfect in its own enigmatic way.

Risk

I’d love to tell you all about what I discovered through that one-two punch, but that would involve spoilers. So, instead, I will leave you today with a piece of wisdom from the novel. It’s about risk:

“There is nothing more heartbreaking than a squandered opportunity, a missed chance. I knew about stuff like that. I’d been young once. So many dreams had been dashed. But I dashed them myself. I wanted to be safe, whole, have a future of certainty. One makes mistakes when there is confusion between having a future at all and having the future one wants.”

This is the protagonist musing in one of her rare flashes of insight. This is a novel that seems to be about a murder, but is actually about the hog-wild runnings of our minds that, often completely unbeknownst to us, affect the choices we make and the lives we ultimately live.

Ottessa Moshfegh took a risk in writing such a hog-wild novel: a novel that can scarcely be understood without some serious mental boxing, symbolic thinking, and character psychoanalysis.

I’m glad she did.

Have you taken any risks lately?

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