My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh

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This was the beauty of sleep- reality detached itself and appeared in my mind as casually as a movie or a dream. It was easy to ignore things that didn’t concern me.

Moshfegh is a hell of a writer, I was dazed after reading this novel. I felt like I was sucked into the pit of our narrator’s despair. Finishing this was like stepping out of a pitch dark room into torturous sunlight. Our narrator is seemingly blessed with beauty, a fabulous education, and money which allows her this living death of sorts. Her best friend Reva, oh lord what a complicated relationship these two share. “I was both relieved and irritated when Reva showed up, the way you’d feel if someone interrupted you in the middle of suicide.” Well that grabs your attention!  This is more than just a personal slum she is suffering through and Reva tries to snap her out of it. She loves her friend and doesn’t really like her at the same time. It’s evident why as we get to know them both. There is a jealousy that shivers off Reva, and has never been hidden. Is she satisfied to see her best friend, this ‘effortless beauty’ sink into hibernation? Maybe.

It can come off as self-indulgent, as people who don’t understand depression find such people can. I kept thinking of scenes from Moonstruck when Cher smacks Nicholas Cage and tells him “snap out of it”, a movie twenty somethings likely have no idea what I am talking about.  When she starts seeing Dr. Tuttle, of questionable character, she gets her fill of pills that further fog her mind. This young woman has passed the point of numb, she is much like a barnacle in her bed, clinging to her soured sheets. What caused her to go from behaving much in the same way the other ‘self-important’ go-getters do to this state of arrest.

Truth be told, most people can’t break down like this without far greater disruptions in their life, nor in the lives of others. The rest of us are more likely to go into auto-pilot or the land of grin and bear it until we snap and search for something to fix us, but still have to pry ourselves out the door to earn money. You will absolutely feel clubbed over the head and foggy yourself, not a lot of writers can make you feel their characters depression like this. I was going to write a review ‘in a day’ but left it for weeks! I shouldn’t have laughed at Dr. Tuttle, but what an oddity! It’s far too easy for our dear narrator to get pills she shouldn’t be touching.

Her relationship with Trevor was mostly one where she was available and easily manipulated. Her mother, in a sense, introduced her to hibernation years before. Her hardworking father kicked out of bed with his wife, carrying a cancer inside of him, distant always from his child. “He was kind of non-entity..”, is this early damage what caused a woman with ‘model looks’ to wish to be more a bum then the privileged darling birth made her? Sleep is better than remembering every detail of her life. Her mother went from moments of small affections to “I can’t listen to you now”, and disappearing into phone calls, or baths or Daniel Steal novels. This is a mother who crushed, if she is to be believed, valium into her baby bottle to treat the annoyance of her colic. A mother that doesn’t want a child who is awake and needy.  Someone ‘accountable for nothing”, drunk on alcohol and selfishness. She learned to find solace in the attention girls of lesser beauty gave her, being invisible to her mother and father. Reva is just another admirer she collected, in a way. But can Reva stand to watch her sink, when she herself has very real issues in her own life and needs a friend?

When she isn’t making up symptoms to get stronger drugs, she shares the rotted memories that spring a leak in her mind. Angry that she ‘degraded herself’ with Trevor, the abrupt death of her father who was never really real to her, but able to sleep it out of her system with pills she finds herself doing strange things on the internet in her drugged state, having black outs, she longs for a strong sedative. Do we feel sorry for her,  though irritated with her for her endlessly exhausting self-pity? I still don’t know. People live through worse. That’s the thing, it’s hard to relate to when you aren’t going through it.

Before long she is waking up wondering, what day is it? Where am I? When Reva suffers a loss, she shows up for her friend but needs more support than she gives to the person who is actually in mourning. Maybe she doesn’t have the strength to rally any emotion, having grown up in a joyless home, unable to get close to her parents, maybe she can’t grasp the overwhelming grief of losing loved one . Or maybe this dissociation with reality, this numbed up sleep is grief itself, long overdue. Can you grieve people who you believe never loved you, those you never truly knew? Can you grieve the person you have become or were or the years left to become?

Will she ever return to the world? It ends as it should, and this is by far one of the strangest books I’ve read. I had to step out into the light to get the stink of despair off my skin! You don’t have to be in your twenties to understand how someone can sink, who seems like she has so much more than the rest of the world. Anyone can get stuck in the tar of despair, she was numb before the pills. Is there any one thing that stands out? No, it’s everything that ever happened or ever will, maybe it’s even the assumption most people would feel looking at this beautiful woman imaging her living  a charmed, care-free existence. She is disturbed and stunted, and sleep is her means of escape until it isn’t.

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Penguin Press

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