My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Written by: Ottessa Moshfegh
Read by: Julia Whelan
7 Hours and 15 Minutes
Penguin Random House Audio Imprint: Penguin Audio
Genre: Fiction – Literary
Release Date: July 10, 2018
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.
This story was troubling. It tells a story on so many levels, psychiatric, societal, but most importantly, I think, this is a story about us, America before 9/11.
I kept thinking that this story was taking place, all happening in a different world: the world before 9/11 when we were asleep to what was just around the corner. The character is “I” as the story is in the first person. I thought there was a name for the main character: this woman who sleeps as much of her day away as she can, ignoring the past, the present and hiding from the future. But I cannot locate it But, none of us can hide from the future.
She is using the inheritance from her parents, this world we live in us all an inheritance from the past. To avoid it, she is using a quack shrink filled with psychobabble nonsense and filling the patient, all too readily with the simulacrum of medicament. The shrink to me represents the media stream we don’t tend to question but which often directs us from one idea, one crisis, one candidate. The main character’s friend, Reva represented someone pushing for a “normal” life — without ever realizing there is no such thing.
I can’t say I liked the book: I went to college with many people from Southern New York and the “New York” stereotype is heavily represented here and I am not sure if I feel insulted for them or if they are all too familiar. But, what I haven’t been able to do is stop thinking about what it all means: Is it about a woman who wants to heal her wounded psyche through sleep, or, is it about a country blindly hurtling towards 9/11? I’m not sure we need to “like” it though; there are a lot of books I “like” that I never think about after I turn off the kindle or audio.
The entire time I was reading ought this takes place before the world changes. If only we could all have slept through it.
As the character and her life hurtles towards destiny, it matches America as it hid its head in the clouds, rested on its laurels, etc. Every age has defining moments, the moments when we all know exactly what we were doing. I am pretty sure 9/11 qualifies, and normal citizens sleepwalked into it. For me this story became about “I” and Reva, the men working in the store “I” frequented, her doctor, as they all marched themselves in their own little worlds, stuffed full of pills, stuffed with belief, stuffed with societal norms.
Whelan spoke the narration perfectly. The characters were perfectly depicted through her narration: great accents and class.
If you can figure out something different about this tale of sleep, alienation and hiding from reality I would love to know. But, I think this is the first piece of literature in my experience that attempts to use literature to understand the road to 9/11.
Author’s page at PRHA: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/304748/ottessa-moshfegh