By Heidi Simmons
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
by Ottessa Moshfegh – Fiction
Who couldn’t use a long vacation or a week of sleep? Studies have proven that getting a good night’s rest is paramount to our physical and mental health. In Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Random House, 304 pages), one woman explores the depth of sanity through somnambulating.
This book is a first-person narrative in which an unnamed protagonist tells her story.
She is young and beautiful without maintenance or effort. She lives in Manhattan and graduated Columbia University. She studied art history and worked at a trendy art gallery before getting fired for napping at work. Both her parents died while she was in her junior year of college – her father from cancer and her mother committed suicide.
She has inherited a fortune and can afford not to work — ever. She has one friend, and an on-and-off again older boyfriend who likes to use her for sex because she’ll do whatever he asks.
Recognizing she is depressed, angry, lonely, arrogant, entitled and selfish, she seeks a psychiatrist to help her get drugs (prescription drugs). Flipping through the phone book late at night, she finds a doctor who is willing to “help” her.
The narrator realizes right away that the doctor is completely irresponsible and totally crazy – just what she needs! With a boatload of psychotropic drugs prescribed, she enters a new reality where the concoction she downs, “as needed,” turns her world into dreams and nightmares.
Never telling the doctor the truth about her condition and side effects, the psychiatrist continues to prescribe stronger and experimental meds, which finally leave the narrator in a blacked out state.
After three days of living life without any awareness of her actions, she decides the “black out” is the best treatment to break through her twisted reality. Not mentioning anything to her doctor, she stockpiles the drugs and makes arrangements to “sleep” for a year.
At the end of her hibernation experiment, she hopes to resurface a new woman.
Moshfegh is a talented and intense writer. She is visceral, gritty and bruitally honest. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is anything but a calming or restorative read. It is spending time with a broken, drug addict with a bottomless bank account who is on the brink of total self-destruction.
The psychiatrist tells the narrator that she doesn’t care what the FDA says, in her professional opinion ‘drugs are an important therapy to rewire the brain, and are effective in curing mental illness because they indeed do impair judgment. Human beings spend too much time acting reasonably and should respond more intuitively.’
As our narrator tells her story, the reader gets to know how she was raised and why she is so detached from humanity. Her natural beauty and privilege shaped a world where it conformed to her, not she to it. She does not understand love or kindness. Her only hope to loose her cynicism and distain for human beings is to enter an altered state.
After that, I knew I loved this book. There is a great deal of bizarre and disturbing behavior, but we humans are strange and complicated creatures. The narrator self medicates – albeit with the help of her doctor – and devises a plan of action that she believes – hopes – will change her reality.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is rich thematically and would be fun to discuss with friends. I liked that the narrator has no name and she desires to be invisible. She sleepwalks through life with nothing to challenge her and nothing to make life meaningful. Is she Sleeping Beauty?
Author Moshfegh is a powerful writer, and she envelops the reader in the darkness. It is not a book to read while functioning at a low ebb. However, I found the ending a surprise and even uplifting. The protagonist comes forth from her sleep renewed. Will it last? Does anything?