Friday, July 27, 2018

Book Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Publisher: Penguin Press

From one of our boldest, most celebrated new literary voices, a novel about a young woman's efforts to duck the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation with the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the battery of medicines she prescribes.

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn't she? She's young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn't just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It's the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.

Moshfegh’s latest novel follows our unnamed narrator who is a twenty-something New Yorker who has decided that she wants to escape the next year of her life by taking enough pharmaceutical drugs to put her to sleep for that long. She lost her parents at a young age and speaks about a childhood that was often less than idyllic. She feels alone, unsatisfied, and is left a rather large inheritance that is more than enough to get her through a year of sleep. 

The narrator is witty, unique, somewhat weird, and far different from anything I have read this year. At times, I didn’t know whether I should like her or dislike her, and I think this is part of what helped the book hold its charm. 

Mosshfegh’s writing is humorous at times, clever, and astonishing. I did not anticipate this novel making me ponder my own life and my own thoughts as much as it did. At first, I thought that the entire premise seemed strange, but then I felt that I caught on to what Mosshfegh wanted readers to reflect upon as they read. I never thought this book would give me pause and cause me to feel so many emotions through a nameless narrator. I did not understand her actions or many of her thoughts, but I think that is what makes this book so astonishing.  

I had started “hibernating” as best I could in mid-June of 2000. I was twenty-four years old. I watched summer die and autumn turn cold and gray through a broken slat in the blinds. My muscles withered. The sheets on my bed yellowed, although I usually fell asleep in front of the television on the sofa, which was from Pottery Barn and striped blue and white and sagging and covered in coffee and sweat stains.

I can’t point to any one event that resulted in my decision to go into hibernation. Initially, I just wanted some downers to drown out my thoughts and judgments, since the constant barrage made it hard not to hate everyone and everything. I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me. 

I was plagued with misery, anxiety, a wish to escape the prison my mind and body. 

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Penguin Press in exchange for my honest review***

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