Eric Boss reviews DEATH IN HER HANDS

Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
ON SALE APRIL 21, 2020
Penguin Press

For those who savor literary suspense, this is a prime cut. The reader is invited into the gradual disintegration of a mind. Already damaged by a lifetime of emotional suppression, Vesta Gul, now free of her domineering husband finds an enigmatic note implying the murder of a woman named Magda. She postulates the meaning of the note and further, the personality, motives and actions of the supposed victim. Her imagination constructs a scenario complete with details of work, home, friends and family. A portrait of Magda, the girl (we think) who was killed emerges as do the outlines of those with whom she interacted.

As the tale progresses, we learn more about Vesta’s life: a sad one, it seems. Moving from tender recollections of her husband to accusations of indifference and infidelity we learn, in tandem with the emergence of Magda’s story, what kind of man he was and in what ways he damaged his long-suffering wife. Page by page, we begin to wonder about the mental and emotional state of our narrator and whether she’s inching closer to the edge of sanity. At some point, nearly indefinable, she truly enters the realm of the unbalanced, but there are hints that she’s not entirely wrong about dastardly doings going on around her. Already unsettling, the narrative becomes disturbing and deliciously creepy.

The author is clearly a skilled raconteur who would grace any campfire airing of scary stories. Always skirting the margins of mental disorder with a fine step, Moshfegh probes the sensitive corners of our fears with a cold precision that is calculated to create unease. Without a doubt, this is one of the most dextrous evocations of horror I’ve read recently. Proceed with caution and at your own risk.

Shelf Talker: A cerebral horror story told with craft and imagination. The gradual descent of the narrator into a fatal madness is sure to give chills to any reader. To be read with care and caution: proceed at your own risk.