There was no escaping My Year of Rest and Relaxation this summer. Visit any bookish website, and its iconic hot pink text and classic cover art was plastered on the front page. Scroll through bookstagram, and Moshfegh’s name appeared in post after post. Browse any bookshop, and it was prominently displayed on the front table. I try to avoid over-hyped books at all costs, but I gave in for this one, and I’m glad I did.
I snatched up my copy at McNally Jackson a few weeks ago, while staying on the Upper East Side, weirdly enough just a few blocks away from where our unnamed narrator lives. It was one of those instances where I read a book at the absolute perfect time. Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation in New York definitely heightened my reading experience; this book feels, in every sense, like a New York Novel, and I’m not convinced I could’ve accessed the full meaning had I not been in the very city where it takes place.
From the jacket:
Our narrator has many of the advantages in life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents while she was in college, or the miserable way her Wall Street sometimes-boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that very question. Through the story of a year spent by a young woman under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs prescribed to heal people from alienation and existential ennui, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary that alienation sometimes is. Tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts and the rewards of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers.
“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.”
-Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation
My Year of Rest and Relaxation presents a very privileged yet very depressed narrator. Unnamed, she is somewhat unlikeable in her trust-fund, Upper East Side ways, and yet she isn’t the biggest fan of herself either. Drowning in the world after the death of her parents and the latest break-up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend Trevor, she takes self-care to the extreme by creating endless amounts of prescription drug cocktails, prescribed to her by an aloof psychologist, so that she may escape the world and sleep for a year. This book, weird and wonderful in so many ways, touches on an abundance of topics, from mental health to inauthenticity, while focusing on the narrator’s relationships, healthy and unhealthy. Moshfegh is a very polarizing writer but My Year of Rest and Relaxation reminded me very much of The Idiot in its tone and content, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this one as well. Despite the cliché ending, the last page crushed my soul and left me hungry for more.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is not an “enjoyable” book, it’s not a “feel-good” book. It’s about the ugly, depressing parts of life, the parts that make you want to hole up in your apartment and literally sleep for a year, to hide from masochistic, pretentious boyfriends and irritating, nettlesome best friends. If anything, this book made me feel awful. Yet, I loved every minute of it. Suddenly, I want to devour everything Moshfegh has every written (thank God I planned ahead and bought Eileen). Sign me up for the Ottessa Moshfegh Fan Club.
Further reading: “Ottessa Moshfegh Plays to Win” by Kaitlin Phillips, The Cut; “Ottessa Moshfegh’s Otherworldly Fiction” by Ariel Levy, The New Yorker.
Find this book on Goodreads.