Remember Eileen? I’m a fan of that book, despite its depressing heroine and its disturbing weirdness (or probably because of it). Sure enough, Moshfegh has delivered another weird story with an unlikable character. And, once again, it was hard to put down.
I had started “hibernating” as best I could in mid-June of 2000. I was twenty-four years old. I watched summer die and autumn turn cold and gray through a broken slat in the blinds. My muscles withered. The sheets on my bed yellowed, although I usually fell asleep in front of the television on the sofa, which was from Pottery Barn and striped blue and white and sagging and covered in coffee and sweat stains.
I don’t think the narrator of My Year of Rest and Relaxation even has a name. Not like her poor friend, Reva. But maybe that’s the way she would have wanted it. She is, after all, attempting to wipe out her life up to this point, so she can start over with a clean slate. Maybe she will also give herself a new name? That is, if she makes it through the year.
Despite being young, pretty, a university graduate, our narrator is not happy with her life. Her parents have both died. She was never close with them, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling something about the fact that they are no longer around. Especially because she is now alone in the world. She has a job at an independent art gallery that she doesn’t like; she is disheartened by the fact that the art world had “turned out to be like the stock market, a reflection of political trends and the persuasions of capitalism, fueled by greed and gossip and cocaine.”
All she wants to do is sleep.
She is lucky enough to have some money from her parents, as well as the rent money from their house, so she decides to take a year off to rest. And by rest, she means sleep. And by sleep, she means chemically-induced unconsciousness.
My hibernation was self-preservational. I thought that it was going to save my life.
Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart – this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then – that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.
Our narrator (conveniently) finds a doctor nutty enough to prescribe to her all the pills she wants. All she has to do is show up at her appointments and tell her doctor she still can’t sleep. Ambien, Valium, Ativan, Xanax… You name it, she’s got it.
She proceeds to ingest unbelievable amounts of pills.
(And here is the only problem I had with this novel… I have no concept of how much would be too much, or how many would be too many, or for how long would be too long… but it seems to me, at the rate she was going, things would not be good, if she even made it out alive. On the other hand, this is not the point of the novel, so I (mostly) let it go. In addition, one of the main drugs she ends up taking is fictional, so the author can ascribe to it any traits and effects she wants!)
Most of the book is made up of her taking pills, watching DVDs (Whoopi Goldberg is her hero, so she can’t be all bad.), fading in and out of life, thinking about trying to think about life as little as possible (the more she tries not to think about things, the more she thinks about them), trying to piece together what she did while in black-outs (shopping, clubbing, waxing, manicures, boarding trains) and realizing that black-outs are counter-productive to “rest and relaxation”.
And, periodically, her friend Reva comes over to visit. Mostly, Reva seems to come over to drink and complain about herself and her life. Reva has her own problems and she can’t have many friends, because she continues to come over to see our narrator even though she gets little response, and when she does get a response it’s not usually very kind or sympathetic.
In short, our narrator is not very likable. But somehow she had me rooting for her. For her own sake as well as everyone else’s, I wanted to see her experiment work. I wanted to see her come out the other side a better, happier (kinder?) person. On the other hand I felt I might be disappointed if the story ended too unrealistically. I mean, after taking all those drugs every day for an entire year, it surely wouldn’t be a piece of cake to come off them.
I still feel a little conflicted about the ending, but I’m not going to tell you why.
How about you? Have you read this book? Were you satisfied with the ending? Did the story bore you or captivate you? (I can see it going either way.)