This is my review of My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.
For a long time, I believed that timelessness was a necessary characteristic of good literature. I’ve always though that “classics” are books that can stand the test of time. This means no pop culture references, no politics. IF you think about it, that would impose quite a few restrictions on a modern storyteller- what if we stop using fossil fuels in the next century? Will the EU last until the next millennium? JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien got it right- negate fashion trends by having everyone dress in robes or rags, set up your own currency to avoid inflation induced sticker shock… But what about non-fantasy genres?
Capturing the essence of the here and now is an art in itself (impressionism?). If a work of fiction evokes a place and time in the past, that sense of being somewhere else, or feeling nostalgic, is an achievement.
Anyway, my point is this: My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a book that proudly dates itself in the early 2000s. The protagonist is a woman in her early twenties who has recently experienced trauma- both her parents recently died. This puts her in the position of being very rich and very alone. Her coping mechanism is to sleep. Sleeping in closets at work. Sleeping pills on the weekend. She tells herself that a year of uninterrupted sleep will heal all her wounds. She quits her job, finds herself a quack therapist to provide an endless supply of maximum strength sleeping pills, and gets to work.
There’s not much more that I can say without spoiling the plot. It’s the kind of hare-brained scheme one would expect to see in a sitcom with a laugh track. One doesn’t really expect said scheme to be successful, but the audience is just along for the ride. The darkness of the subject matter is barely acknowledged. The fact that the unnamed protagonist is severely depressed is not addressed (because her form of self treatment does not involve self awareness, apparently), and red flags from her childhood are only mentioned in passing. It’s meant to be a black comedy, and hits the mark simply by having the most ridiculous plot delivered with none of the emotional over-expression that’s so common in literary fiction.
What really made this book for me was the ending. It ends as abruptly as it starts, and revelations are as understated as they are in real life. Sometimes it takes the most dramatic of world events to make a person realize the importance of staying awake.
3.5/5 from me. The book will leave you feeling as fuzzy headed and confused as a person waking up from a 16-hour nap, but it’s worth it.