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My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Review

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

The gerund “adulting” kept coming to mind as I read Ottessa Moshfegh’s MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION. “Adulting” is, in my opinion, a somewhat lazy way of speaking --- a shirking, if you will, of the grammar responsibilities on which I came up. A shirking of responsibilities is precisely why that adjective-cum-verb kept coming to mind as I read Moshfegh’s third novel; in it, the unnamed narrator takes a year off from life to enter a self-prescribed, prescription drug-fueled sleep.

At first the premise seems implausible. The narrator is a 24-year-old who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the year 2000. Her apartment is a one-bedroom in a doorman building. She orders in for all her meals or goes to the bodega for coffee and snacks; she frequently receives packages of online purchases made while sleep-shopping. How is this even possible? Is she one of the obviously independently wealthy friends from “Friends”? She is independently wealthy. Her parents both died while she was in college, leaving her with an inheritance and a house in the country she rents out. She is, she tells the reader, a WASP --- a pretty, skinny, blonde, Columbia-educated WASP who, aside from the love of her parents, has wanted for little during her life.

"Moshfegh rarely writes in the present tense but still develops an immediacy that compels the narration forward.... Her ability to create incredible prose is astounding."

After graduating from Columbia, she took her art history degree to a gallery in Chelsea, where “canned counterculture crap” by up-and-coming artists was hung on the walls. It was during her time at the gallery that she began to sleep. In the afternoons she’d take some Benadryl and head down to the storage closet and sleep for a few hours, not worried about getting caught by the gallery’s owner or caring if she missed anything of import. She is eventually dismissed from the gallery and uses the dismissal to file for unemployment --- the checks cover the cost of her medications --- and begin her year-long hibernation.

She finds a psychiatrist named Dr. Tuttle to “treat” her. Dr. Tuttle wears a neck brace (the result of a taxi accident, she says) and white sleeveless nightgowns to her appointments. Her office is covered in cat fur from numerous, enormous cats and stinks of cat pee. The doctor seems to be somewhat insane, paranoid about being discovered by government agencies, and is possibly the worst psychiatrist in the city. This is all perfect for the narrator, who lies without hesitation to get more and different medications to help her hibernation.

The narrator doesn’t suffer from depression; she suffers from narcissistic apathy. There is nothing she cares about outside of herself, and even caring about herself seems to be draining. Her friend Reva comes by to visit occasionally, and the narrator barely tolerates her. She views Reva with dispassion --- her bulimia, her chronic jealously, the affair she’s having with her married boss --- and tries to end the friendship several times. She obsesses over her older ex-boyfriend, Trevor, though she doesn’t really like him much. With her parents dead and no other family or people who care about her outside of Reva, she is free to disconnect herself from the world and sleep. Sleep is, after all, the only thing she wants.

There are events in the narrative that offer hope that the narrator will break herself out of her stupor and rejoin the world. A bit infuriatingly she persists, and it is almost a relief when she enters the final four months of her hibernation with a plan of how to get through them and come out somewhat better than she was 12 months before. When she finally does emerge, it is June 2001 in New York City.

In MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, Moshfegh rarely writes in the present tense but still develops an immediacy that compels the narration forward. The novel is very much contained in the narrator’s lethargic world and can get a bit suffocating after a time. What saves it is Moshfegh’s gift for the structure of a sentence. Her ability to create incredible prose is astounding. The result is a story that is funny in a way that is more sad-funny than comical, which, I think, is very much the intention.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on July 20, 2018

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
by Ottessa Moshfegh

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press
  • ISBN-10: 0525522115
  • ISBN-13: 9780525522119