Ottessa Moshfegh Wishes She Was Elvis's Songwriter
Waiting on the release of her third novel, "Death in Her Hands," the author answers the GARAGE Questionnaire.
Photographed by Luke Goebel
Welcome to the GARAGE Questionnaire— a set of questions for our times, with inquiries that range from delicate to unhinged—all the better to peer into the multifaceted minds of our creative heroes.
Ottessa Moshfegh's third novel, Death in Her Hands, is a noir where the violence that happens is inward. Taking place almost exclusively on the grounds of an old Girl Scout camp in the strange and rural town of Levant, we watch the narrator, an old woman named Vesta Gul, slowly unravel as her surroundings continue to stay serene. The widow to a brilliant and morose German scientist, and mom to a dog named Charlie, Gul’s relentless drive to solve the mystery she is faced takes a turn into the realm of Agatha Christie novels, or perhaps even more accurately, the black humor and psychological horror of the documentary Grey Gardens.
None of this is exactly new territory for Moshfegh, who has built a career on writing deeply unlikable and strange women who often torture themselves through prescription drugs, obsessive longing, and isolation atop the bleakest of backdrops (think: a New England prison in wintertime, a disgusting New York City apartment right before 9/11). Moshfegh, who lives in California and is from New England, is also a bit enigmatic. She is the kind of person who in a recent interview said she doesn't "know anyone like me,” and also has a pretty good idea of when she is going to die. She is the perfect candidate, you might say, to answer our very own GARAGE Questionnaire.
What’s the thing you unexpectedly miss the most right now?
What is something you’ve discovered about yourself while in quarantine?
I think I might have a ganglion cyst on my toe.
What is the best thing you’ve cooked while in quarantine?
Instagram Live or Zoom?
What’s your quarantine uniform?
Pajama pants and T-shirt.
What’s the best thing you’ve read or watched while in quarantine?
Andy Warhol is coming for dinner. Who else do you invite?
Nobody. I’d want to be alone with him.
Favorite problematic person, living or dead (or cancelled)?
Louis C.K. Is he still “problematic”?
What is your favorite piece of furniture that you own or wish to own?
Favorite iconic red carpet moment (could be your own)?
No real favorite, but I liked when Lara Flynn Boyle dressed like a ballerina.
What is a song you wish you wrote?
I wish I had been Elvis’s songwriter.
When and where were you happiest?
Swimming in the ocean with my husband on Lanai, spring 2018.
What is your idea of misery?
Misery is fine, but addiction to misery is truly miserable.
What is the most overrated virtue?
I don’t care about things like that.
What is your favorite journey?
I love driving from Massachusetts to Maine.
Final meal: who, what, where... and when?
Probably an entire bottle of sparkling rose and some potato chips on a cliff looking out at the ocean, by myself.
If your style were cooked, what would it taste like?
I like to think it would taste like plums.
What are you wearing to your own funeral?
I don’t want to wear clothes when I’m buried, just my baby blanket and a blindfold.
What is the last time you were moved by a work of art (any kind of art) and what was it?
I loved Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend.
When was the last time you fell in love?
The moment I laid eyes on Luke Goebel: December 1, 2016.
If you could only text with one person for the rest of your life, who would it be?
My nieces. There are two of them, but don’t make me choose.
Do you think the ocean is haunted?
No, I’ve never thought that.
What was the first movie you ever loved?
Back to the Future.
Bread with olive oil or bread with butter? (Assume all components are “the good kind.”)
Bread with butter. Butter is one of my favorite foods.
What is your favorite scent?
Right now, the orange blossoms around my house.
Fuck, kill, or marry: Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Cy Twombly.
Kill all of them, I think.
Would you give up all other swear words to keep “fuck”?
No. I prefer “shit” and “bullshit.” “Fuck” is a terrible world and makes people sound stupid.
Describe your worst outfit (and where and when it happened).
I think this happened yesterday: gray sweatpants with holes in the butt and a “Use Your Illusion” T-shirt which was not a real concert T-shirt but a copy by Urban Outfitters or something. I bought it second-hand at Crossroads in L.A. The sweatpants are eight years old and from Old Navy.
Are memes art?
Depends on their intentionality. Depressing question!
If you could live somewhere different for a year where would it be?
A private tropical island like Tom Hanks’s character in Cast Away.
What would you do with a stolen day?
Break into people’s houses and try on all their clothes.
What was your mother right all along about?
What’s the last thing you Googled?
What’s your most used emoji?
The thumbs up.
What's the most useful thing you own?
What’s the least useful thing you own?
Some expired deli meat.
When was the last time you lied to someone's face?
What were the circumstances for the last time you held someone's hand?
Last night falling asleep with Luke and the dogs.
How old are you at heart?
Vacillate between 13 and 73.
A deli is going to name a sandwich after you. What’s in it?
Mustard, pickles, hard salami, smoked Gouda, lettuce, tomatoes, a few long brown hairs.
Would you rather maintain a young mind or a young body?
Pen or pencil?
What’s your pet pleasure?
Diet Coke with a slice of lemon stolen off a neighbor’s tree.
Something that annoys everyone else, that you secretly love?
When people throw fits in public.
Rose and thorn for this week?
Rose: my dog Walter. Thorn: the internet.
What would God say if you arrived in heaven?
“You’re late. Did you get lost?”
What would the devil say if you arrived in hell?
“Keep your mouth shut.”
What is something you would absolutely never wear?
What do you wear when you want to feel powerful?
If you had to introduce yourself to someone via a meal, what would it be?
I’d probably just give them a tour of my fridge and ask them what they’re in the mood for.
What superpower would you like to have?
The ability to materialize anything I imagine.
What is a place in time you’d like to visit?
I’d like to see my homeland—Massachusetts—before it was colonized.
“Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice.” Which do you think?
What do you consider to be the best invention of our times?
Once and for all, are we living in the Matrix?
I don’t think so.