Death in Her Hands

Acclaimed author Ottessa Moshfegh creates protagonists that are not simply unlikable and unreliable, they are severely frustrating. Death in Her Hands uses this same basic formula, but innovates in its capacity to baffle, appall and, yet, utterly magnetize readers.

Vesta Gul, a 72-year-old widow, appears to be a "little old lady, according to most people." After her husband, Walter, a German university professor, dies of cancer, Vesta sells their home and moves to the town of Levant, a backwater seemingly occupied only by obese residents who all appear to be a decade older than they are. Vesta discovers a note while walking with her dog Charlie through the birch woods that surround her cabin: "Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body."

The note becomes the catalyst for Vesta's retreat into the dark, strange territory of her own mind, where she is determined to solve this "mystery" using only her imagination. Her ever-increasing mania is the chaotic force that animates the novel. The obsession becomes all-consuming, dragging readers helplessly along as Vesta invests trivial details with grand meaning and repeatedly comes to the most puzzling conclusions.

As with Moshfegh's other novels (My Year of Rest and Relaxation; Eileen), there is no respite "offstage" to evaluate the protagonist's unreasonable behavior. However, Moshfegh has a talent for extracting comedy out of absurdity, like having her elderly character attempt to solve a mystery by using at her local library. Twisted, amusing and transgressive, Death in Her Hands delivers a feminist anti-hero readers won't forget. --Emma Levy, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

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