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Ottessa Moshfegh earned plaudits for last year’s Eileen, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. But her literary career began with stories. Homesick for Another World (out Jan. 17) showcases her mastery with tales of a range of creeps and weirdos in despair, looking for something that will make this world more palatable to them (or vice versa).

Moshfegh sympathizes with these people on the margins even as she mocks them, often suturing together comedy and tragedy in one sentence. In the case of an alcoholic schoolteacher sitting alone at a bar: “I dipped a finger in my beer,” she says, “and rubbed off my mascara.” A delusional actor with eccentric interests responds to a disappointment by “staring at the sun through the smog on the balcony, holding his eyes open with his fingers, crying.”

This cast of boors may not be the kind of folks readers would seek out to spend time with in real life. But in Moshfegh’s stories, their company is irresistible.

This appears in the December 26, 2016 issue of TIME.

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