My Year of Rest and Relaxation
-What Is It?-
A bleak and wonderful novel about a young woman living in New York who decides to undergo a personal transformation by attempting to sleep for a year. This reads like Dostoevsky meets Clueless. It’s funny, it bites every once in a while, and there are truly moments of sheer brilliance sprinkled throughout. It’s one of the only pieces of recent contemporary fiction I’ve read in a while, and I cannot recommend it enough.
-Why Is It Important?-
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a book written in a voice that is both grounded in a realism that makes it intelligible, while also allowing itself to drift into literary allusion/metaphor that helps provide a sort of symbolic elevation which keeps the novel from feeling dull or drawn-out.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about inhabiting the headspace of the narrator. Her apathy and acidic, but often sincere and accurate, worldview is highly cathartic to see executed so well. For the same reason people enjoy Regina George in the film Mean Girls, this narrator can be enjoyed as well—simply put, who doesn’t, at some point in time or another in their life, want to feel like a hot bitch?
What’s more, there is genuinely a deep reservoir of sympathy to be found in someone with such a perspective on the world as our narrator has. She has the staple tragedies of any dramatic novel about a young person coming of age in a difficult way—her parents are both dead, her best friend doesn’t quite understand her, she feels isolated and alone in the world at large—but instead of being played out and mined for their saccharine tragedy, they are instead explored by a narrator who must be honest with herself and admit that, despite her losses and her relative disconnect with the world because of them, they grant her no special freedoms or insights. She is someone whom tragedy has happened to, and who’s past has been colored by it, but she herself feels a detachment from. She isn’t sociopathic, not really, though I’m sure some critics have described her in an allusory way as such. More than anything, she accepts that these tragedies have happened, and instead of fixating on them, is more interested in pursuing the idea of what that pain—or what pain in general—really means overall, than what it means in the context of her own experience.
Above all, the prior rationalization may very much be moot. The book is a rather simple one—a young woman, beset on all sides by the tyrannies and tragedies of her life, decides to undertake an experiment of experience. She wants to, for once, be the one who changes her consciousness by a willful act of submission to a greater purpose, instead of bouncing around life and hoping change will come. By the end, she experiences what she set out to—enlightenment. And she finds, in a way, that other people may have the opportunity to do the same.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a totally engrossing contemporary work of art. There is a cold honesty throughout the entirety of the book, mixed in with a heavy dose of social satire and deprecation, and topped off with an ending that is as tragic as it is hopeful. I can see why people have found themselves attached to the novel, and I think it is well-deserving of the cult following it has already accrued, and the underground fame that will no doubt cement it as a classic popular work for decades to come.
Moshfegh, Ottessa. My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Penguin Press, 2018.
Link to My Year of Rest and Relaxation Podcast – Apple Podcasts