My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of 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 everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street 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?
This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11 – this novel is a showcase for the gifts of one of America’s major young writers working at the height of her powers.
This is a book that definitely won’t be for everyone, and unfortunately, it wasn’t for me. I gravitate towards books that portray mental illness but this one, though well written in many ways, didn’t hold my interest.
Maybe it was because I really didn’t like the main character. I found her whiny and self-involved. I didn’t like how she fell apart so completely when her boyfriend left — so much so that she had to spend an entire year in a self-induced medication coma — even though she had so many other things going for her. I know life is hard and that we all react to loss or problems differently, but the narrator’s reactions to her issues didn’t resonate with me at all as being authentic. And then the narrator finds the most terrible psychiatrist who will basically prescribe anything that she wants even though it is clearly wrong, and that she the proceeds to take all of these strange meds for a year and come out of the whole thing refreshed and physically undamaged felt like an affront.
I’m sure that the author is trying to say something poignant about modern society and our mental heath, but it did not speak to me.