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LAPVONA by Ottessa Moshfegh: The Rot Town - a brief review in the form of a letter I really wrote to a friend


Photo: CX

I’ll keep this (mercifully) short. Thanks for letting me borrow this. I liked the book! If I ever checked out Otessa Moshfegh’s stuff it probably would have only been “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” and I probably would have never branched out past that so… thanks again. A path I would have never taken, the most contemporary novel I read in some time. There were two particular quotes I noted, keys I think to the book: “Anything could be cajoled into sense if he thought enough about it.”/“Right or wrong, you will think what you need to think so that you can get by.” In Lapvona the town, the act of thinking has been corrupted to justify sins and crimes: Marek drinks Jude’s sheep’s milk, seeing it as his inheritance; Jude thinks self-lashings will absolve him in the eyes of God; Marek, again, thinking the “Christ” baby as a bird, an angel, capable of flight anyway, perhaps about to toss him off a cliff? (Even one moment late in the book the narrator directly invites—or more like challenges—the reader to justify certain events to themselves: “So find some reason here:”)

Prayer then, in this town, is another kind of “thought.” Religion here, corrupted into a kind of medieval doublethink, is used by Father Barnabas and Villiam to control the Lapvonians, with the help of dams and bandits, of course. The irony is that the priest and lord hardly know anything about the religion they’re using, getting obvious (obvious to Westerners and Christians) details wrong, like Jesus turning wine into roses (He turned water into wine). It definitely helps to know the particulars of Christianity to better grasp this (willful?) collective ignorance on the part of the people in the town and the manor, but it’s not necessary; you get the idea of how bad things are. Which though begs the question: Religion is used not-too dissimilarly in real life, people invoke God to do terrible things to others all the time; Is this the fault of only bad actors, bad people, or are our systems of faith and belief, in-themselves, doomed to decay and rot, like apples left out too long? I don’t know.

The Demi Lovato quote intrigued me too: “I feel stupid when I pray.”—from the song “Anyone,” which I took as “Anyone (so basically ‘everyone’) feels stupid when they pray.” Having faith in anything leaves someone open to be fooled. Is faith then worth it? On this note the novel seems ambivalent. In any case, to quote Demi Lovato, a pop star, incongruous to the novel’s setting, signals to me that “Lapvona” is something like a fable for our modern times, based not on a real, historic medieval town, but what we think a medieval town would be like; a fairy tale where people doubt God but fantastical things still happen (Ina and her horse eyes, etc.), Otessa Moshfegh’s twist on the magical realism genre (like Haruki Murakami or, perhaps more appropriately, Gabriel García Márquez’s “Of Love and Other Demons,” another similarly twisted portrait of a town, or so I think anyway), the sort of fairy tale with a moral, though what that moral could be I’m almost afraid to admit to myself.—Like in those horror movies where the main character knows the ghost is right behind them but hasn’t yet turned around to see it, the ghost!—And yes, the book is very creepy and dark with a lot of fucked up stuff in it, so I got a kick out of that too. I enjoyed the book and will be thinking on it for… well, a while. These are some cursory thoughts after just finishing the book. Who needs to hear me ramble on? And so, corrupted or not, I’ll keep those later thoughts to myself.


About the Writer:

CX is doing what they can. All of their writing-things can be found also on Many Masks Press, and other places like other places.


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