“I took the garbage out into the hallway and threw it down the trash chute. Having a trash chute was one of my favorite things about my building. It made feel important, like I was participating in the world. My trash mixed with the trash of others. The things I touched touched things other people had touched. I was contributing. I was connecting,” Ottessa Moshfegh.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published by Penguin Press, 2018
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I might come back to this one.
Reviewed by Indiana
Sleeping through a year sounds like heavenly bliss.
At least it did to the narrator in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Though she frequently describes herself as attractive, young, thin, even lithe somedays, and though she’s living in a ritzy part of New York City with little financial stress, she finds herself scheming to hibernate for a year.
“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 judgements, since the constant barrage made it hard not to hate everyone and everything,” writes Moshfegh.
It’s not to say that the narrator’s life has been problem free. Her parents both died while she was in college, within days of each other. Then her not-boyfriend-boyfriend treats her horribly, breaking things off constantly to have affairs with older women and coming back to the narrator when it doesn’t work out with them.
There are reasons to pity the narrator, to sympathize with her and her decision to hibernate and to expect life to be somehow better after that. But the narrator strains against that pity throughout the majority of the book. Moshfegh’s strength as a writer is exploring the depths of her characters, most of whom are cold, unfeeling, and depraved. This narrator is no different, as she treats her one friend Reva as though she were an annoying chore rather than a loyal companion. Reva, a friend who the narrator met shortly after her parents died during her college years, is going through her own family tragedy of sorts. Her mother is gravely ill when we’re first introduced to her, though the narrator seems not to care at all. During Reva’s frequent visits to the narrator’s apartment, she is degraded or simply ignored each time, though she doesn’t stop visiting.
The narrator eventually finds a “health professional” disengaged enough to not care how many prescriptions she’s giving out or for what. By popping a chilling number of pills – experimenting with doses – the narrator finds a way to put herself in a pseudocoma. To block out the world or float above it depending on the medication and the day.
Events seem to come together like the slowest of car crashes, very cinematic. Like those scenes where a driver is talking to the passenger and not watching the road and the viewer just knows that means something bad is going to happen; just knows there will be an accident.
That sort of heaviness runs through the book; it’s difficult to spend too much time with the narrator. She is such an empty, lonely, and sometimes hate-filled character one is both fascinated and disgusted at her thoughts.
I couldn’t help but feel hopeful upon finishing it, though not because of the ending scene (please don’t expect some sort of redemptive anything). The narrator “wakes up” just before 9/11, so it’s not that she woke up to rainbows and butterflies. But she does wake up alive, actually willing and wanting to live: “I had no dreams. I was like a newborn animal.” She meanders around the city for a few days devouring books, music, food, etc. Her ability and desire to live awake is so refreshing, such a swift change from the rest of the book; it’s infectious.
The temptation to hibernate, to sleep through all the strife, is getting stronger for many these days. When we get burned out from watching the news too much, or from looks at what’s trending on Twitter, at what our friends are arguing about on Facebook, or looking in the comments section of anything online, hibernation can seem like the best solution. Yet, after reading this book, I don’t think I’ll ever consider hibernation the best (or easiest) solution.