“Bettering Myself” - A Short Story by Ottessa Moshfegh - from her debut collection Home Sick for Another World - 2017 - first published in The Paris Review - Spring 2013
You can read today’s story here
An interesting unusual interview with Ottessa Moshfegh
A fascinating article from The Guardian
I first became aware of the fiction of Ottessa Moshfegh in an article on the best debut collections of short stories published in 2017. I am very glad to have found her.
“Bettering Myself” is the lead story in her very highly reviewed collection Homesick for Another World.
The narrator of the story is a math teacher at a Catholic School. A lot of the students are from families of immigrants from the Ukraine. She is thirty, receiving alimony from an ex-husband who she sometimes calls when intoxicated to complain about her life. She drinks a lot of beer supplemented with whiskey. She has a boyfriend. Her description of their relationship contains a very thinly disguised play on words I heard long ago in a Mae West movie:
“The boyfriend came and went on weekends. Together we drank wine and whiskey, romantic things I liked”.
She pretty much hates her job. Here is her daily routine:
“Between classes I took the sleeping bag out, locked the door, and napped until the bell rang. I was usually still drunk from the night before. Sometimes I had a drink at lunch at the Indian restaurant around the corner, just to keep me going — sharp wheat ale in a squat, brown bottle. McSorley’s was there but I didn’t like all that nostalgia. That bar made me roll my eyes. I rarely made my way down to the school cafeteria, but when I did, the principal, Mr. Kishka, would stop me and smile broadly and say, “Here she comes, the vegetarian.” I don’t know why he thought I was a vegetarian. What I took from the cafeteria were prepackaged digits of cheese, chicken nuggets, and greasy dinner rolls.”
The narrator is a bit of a mess but I liked her. All of the schools students took a statewide test every year. Teachers were judged by how their students did on the test. Sadly for her, she teaches the worst students. So after the tests are completed she takes them home changes the answers so her students seem brilliant. The principal praises her for her students showing,it makes him look good also.
I will leave the rest of the story for you to read. “Bettering Myself” is a work of dark dead pan humour which the narrator uses to get through her day.
I plan to do a read through of this collection, hopefully this year.
Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, was a New York Times bestseller.