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Read This Book: A Selfish Recommendation Of 'My Year Of Rest And Relaxation' By Otessa Moshfegh

By Mieka Strawhorn | Books | December 6, 2018 |

By Mieka Strawhorn | Books | December 6, 2018 |


Sometimes when you recommend a book to a friend it’s a selfless act of giving. If something moves you, touches you in a special way, or otherwise made an impression on you, it’s a beautiful thing to want to share that experience with someone you know will appreciate it. I’ve recommended My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh to several of my favorite readers. But I did it for selfish reasons, because sometimes you finish a book and say to yourself “what the fuck did I just read?” And as was the case of MYORAR, I really just wanted someone else to talk about it with, not really caring whether they’ll actually like it or not.

If you’ve read Ottessa’s 2015 debut novel Eileen (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize), you’ll know that she’s not afraid to a throw nasty, mean-spirited protagonist your way, and that’s just what she’s done here. The unnamed narrator of MYORAR is icy, vain, detached, and deeply unkind. But she’s trying to fix all that. Or rather, she’s trying to fix her experience of life as a human being. Which as we know, is a messy job full of pain, obligation, begrudged attachments, doubt, and anxiety. And the narrator doesn’t “do” those things, ok? So she embarks on the titular year of rest and relaxation by sleeping herself into oblivion with the help of many, many, oh so many pharmaceuticals.

With the help of the World’s Worst Psychiatrist, the batshit crazy Dr. Tuttle (whom she picked out of the Yellow Pages), she enacts her plan to sleep for an entire year with the hope of emerging reborn and pain-free. Her best (and only) friend Reva floats in and out of her narrative, or as she sees it, imposes on her narrative, bringing with her petty problems and demands. When Reva announces that her mom has terminal cancer, the narrator’s response is a distracted “sounds frustrating” (her own mother died of an alcohol/pills OD, her father of cancer).

The narrator’s “journey to the center of the bed” makes use of its 2000/2001 New York City setting by building on a looming sense of dread as 9/11 approaches. Meanwhile, the narrator spends every dwindling waking hour shuffling back and forth between her Upper East Side apartment and the corner bodega for two cups of coffee and whatever meager sustenance she manages to think to pick up, and watching VHS tapes of her favorite Whoopi Goldberg movies. Eventually, she decides to get serious about her quest and goes all-in by enlisting the help of a pretentious visual artist (she used to be a sleek, sexy, gallery girl before she turned herself into a slovenly somnambulist, thanks in part to a super drug called Infermiterol). Things may or may not go as planned - this is one of the many things I’d like to discuss with you when you’re done.

MYORAR is strange. And funny. And dark. All things I like. There are a few passages that are pure poetry. One, in particular, is the best written, most evocative description of falling asleep I have ever read. Others are cringe-inducing (and purposefully so). All are interesting. This is a book I have been recommending for selfish reasons, but it’s also a recommendation that comes from the heart.

Mieka is a staff contributor. You can follow her on Twitter.

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