I started writing this post after leaving my job, taking a leave of absence from school, and moving to China for six months. I was burnt out and having health problems, and I needed a break. Little did I know, we would all be forced to break from our routines with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether it was truly a “break” is debatable, and certainly parents will probably have their own opinions. But there’s no doubt that everyone had a change in priorities as we navigated the new reality. (I won’t go into failures of leadership or postal boxes being removed before the election. I know you’re probably exhausted and need a rest…)
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts / Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts / Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation is not about a pandemic, it is about a woman who needs a long break from her life. The nameless narrator is plagued by a bad job, a best friend she doesn’t like, a shitty ex-boyfriend….But beneath it all is a woman grieving the deaths of parents who never gave her enough love anyway.
Not about to admit this to herself, the narrator decides the only cure for her malaise is to sleep for one year straight. Through a combination of an inheritance and drugs supplied by the world’s worst therapist (and most hilarious character) our narrator begins her grand experiment. The results are…hit or miss, with funny consequences.
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt / Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
I don’t think the book is offensive, but certainly the narrator is an unlikable character. The author prefers blue humor and body fluids, so that may not be for some.
I felt bad for the best friend character, Reva, most of the time. Her flaws felt more sad than other, more comedic, side characters. I’m not sure she was served well by the ending. That being said, I liked the main character. We wouldn’t be friends in real life, but she’s the type of person you can’t wait to see what wild thing she does next. She’s a bit of a Fleabag or Broad City hot mess type, with less empathy. I like those two shows because I like shows where women are allowed to be messy and abrasive. Rest and Relaxation is in the same vein.
The blurb for this book claims “there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents…” This is somewhat misleading, as the book does not explore privilege very deeply. It is clear very early in that the main character is depressed due to grief. Therefore, I found it easy to empathize with her and understand why she acted the way she did. She wasn’t self-destructive in the way Hannah is on Girls, for no real reason.
So though the book didn’t track to my experience taking a break from my life, I still think it’s a fascinating read on what we need, what we think we need, and how bound we are by societal expectations. Recently we’ve seen the end of the handshake and the “social smile”, office attire, the 9-5 work day, the school year, parties that stretched our schedule and exhausted us…I’m certainly not arguing the pandemic was a good thing, only suggesting we take this opportunity to reflect on what forces shape our days, and which of them truly matter.
Click here to buy My Year of Rest and Relaxation, then tell us what you thought in the comments!
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