Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
English | 2020 | Fiction > Literary | ePUB | 2.9 MB
From one of our most ceaselessly provocative literary talents, a novel of haunting metaphysical suspense about an elderly widow whose life is upturned when she finds an ominous note on a walk in the woods.
While on her daily walk with her dog in a secluded woods, a woman comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground by stones. “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.” But there is no dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, alone after the death of her husband, and she knows no one.
Becoming obsessed with solving this mystery, our narrator imagines who Magda was and how she met her fate. With very little to go on, she invents a list of murder suspects and possible motives for the crime. Oddly, her suppositions begin to find correspondences in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to fade into menacing certainty. As her investigation widens, strange dissonances accrue, perhaps associated with the darkness in her own past; we must face the prospect that there is either an innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one.
A triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, Death in Her Hands asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both reflect the truth and keep us blind to it. Once again, we are in the hands of a narrator whose unreliability is well earned, and the stakes have never been higher.
As I stood, my thoughts were bleached and stunted by a terrible pain in my head and eyes, which often happened when I got up too quickly. I always had poor circulation, low blood pressure, “a weak heart,” my husband had called it. Or perhaps I was hungry. I have to be careful, I told myself. One day I might faint in the wrong place and hit my head, or cause an accident in my car. That would be the end of me. I had no one to tend to me if I fell ill. I’d die in some cheap country hospital and Charlie would get slaughtered at the pound.
Charlie, as though he could sense my dizziness, came to my side and licked my hand. In doing so, he stepped on the note. I heard the paper crinkle. Pity to have that pristine page now sullied with a paw print. But I didn’t chide him. I scratched his silky head with my fingers.
Maybe I was being too imaginative, I thought, scanning the note again. I could picture a high school boy wandering the woods, thinking up some funny gore, writing these first few lines, then losing steam, discarding the story for one he found easier to conjure up: the tale of a lost sock, a fight on the football field, a man going fishing, kissing a girl behind the garage. What did some Levant teen need with Magda and her mystery? Magda. This was not a Jenny or Sally or Mary or Sue. Magda was a name for a character with substance, a mysterious past. Exotic, even. And who would want to read about that here, in Levant? The only books at Goodwill were about knitting and World War II.
“Magda. She’s strange,” they’d say.
“I wouldn’t want Jenny or Sally to be hanging around a girl like Magda. Who knows what kind of values she was raised with?”
“Magda. What kind of name is that? An immigrant? Some different language?”
No wonder he had given up on Magda so quickly. Her situation was too complex, too nuanced for a young kid to understand. It would take a wise mind to do Magda’s story real justice. Death was hard to look at, after all. “Skip it,” I can imagine the boy saying, discarding these first few lines. And with that, Magda and all her potential were abandoned. However, there were no signs of neglect, or frustration, nothing revised or rewritten. On the contrary, the lines were pristine and even. Nothing was scribbled out. The paper hadn’t been crumpled up or even folded. And those little rocks . . .