Monday, February 26, 2018

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I am a fan of Ottessa Moshfegh. She cemented her place in my list of Books to Recommend as soon as I closed the cover on her astonishing novel Eileen. And reenforcements were added after I finished her superb short story collection Homesick for Another World. So when I read that she had a forthcoming novel, I knew I had to request it immediately. I was fortunate enough to be granted access to an advanced copy by the publisher.

We meet our unnamed narrator at a time in her life when she is tired. She's a young woman who, by all outward appearances, has everything one could want. It is the beginning of the 21st century and she's an Ivy League graduate, is physically beautiful, lives in a gorgeous apartment in a nice Manhattan neighborhood. She has an enviable job in an art gallery and a relationship with a Wall Street guy. Yet none of these things interests or fulfills her and none seem to be able to pull her away from her overpowering desire to sleep.

Sleeping, in fact, is the only thing that gives her any comfort. Having lost both of her parents, she is without family. She has one friend named Reva who is probably most accurately described as a frenemy and her on again off again boyfriend is actually a huge asshole who treats her exclusively with disrespect. Our narrator responds to the circumstances of her life by falling asleep and into a deep depressive state. Most of her days are spent going downstairs to her local bodega to get two cups of terrible coffee, then retreating to her apartment to watch VHS copies of movies while falling in and out of sleep. Her life carries on this way until her sleeping interferes with her job and she is fired. She decides that she will hibernate for a year and, thanks to an inheritance from her deceased parents has the means to do this with little interruption.

She finds a psychiatrist for the sole purpose of getting prescriptions to aid in her slumber. Dr. Tuttle is a complete quack, prescribing several medications in random dosages to the narrator with little to no supervision or therapy. One drug in particular, called Infermiterol, plunges our narrator into complete blackouts. She wakes from these blackouts with traces of evidence that she participates in truly bizarre activities. By experimenting with this drug, and getting increasing dosages from Dr. Tuttle, she pushes her limits and finally decides to fully sleep for a year.

What to say about this truly bizarre premise? Nothing I write about it will do it justice. This novel is an experience. And it isn't a wholly pleasant or entertaining one but definitely one worth having. The unnamed narrator is someone I have begun thinking of as a Moshfegh heroine. Oddball, damaged, living on the fringes (internally, if not in practice in this case), and completely captivating. Moshfegh continues to write stories that are unique and that always leave me with the feeling of having read nothing like it before. And this novel left me at many times feeling as though I had taken a drug right alongside the narrator. The writing is evocative and drags you right down with her, each time she takes one pill after another and experiences her life in half awake segments. I was a little confused by the ending of the book. And I'd love to have a discussion about it if anyone reads it.

A word about the cover. In the archives of cover art as it relates to the content, this cover is one of the best I've seen in a very long while. Since I had an advanced copy, there is always the possibility that it is not the final cover. I truly hope that is not the case here.

I recommend this to fans of odd characters, immersive, innovative storytelling, and anyone looking for something unlike anything they've read before.

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