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 O.K. 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.
Finishing this book is like emerging from a long movie in a dark theater-- it takes awhile to readjust to the lights and sounds of the real world. I just kind of sat on my couch for awhile, feeling really weird.
The first thing to know about Moshfegh's new novel is that the narrator is asleep for more than half of it. While we never learn her name, we do learn that she is very rich, very blond, and very thin. She is also a recent Columbia grad. Her "beauty" and privilege are at odds with her lack of employment, extreme laziness, and complete loneliness. The narrator briefly holds down a job at an art gallery in Chelsea after graduation, but then gets fired for taking (long) naps in the storage closet. She has exactly two friends in the world: an irritating, shallow roommate from Columbia and an asshole ex-boyfriend who uses her for sex. Both her parents are dead.
Have you ever had the feeling when something really sad happens (a terrible breakup, death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc) that you'll eventually feel better but the next year is going to be especially shitty? Most of us have had that feeling, and that's exactly how our narrator feels. The difference between us and our narrator, though, is that our narrator actually attempts to "skip" an entire year by sleeping through it.
Moshfegh's novel tackles this dark (and quasi hilarious) question: is it possible to escape existential despair by remaining in an unconscious state for as long as possible? Does time really heal all wounds? With the inane help of a very dumb psychiatrist, our narrator takes all kinds of pills (Valium, Prozac, Benadryl, Neuroproxin, Silencior, Infermiterol--some of them are made up) to make her sleep as much as possible during her year of R&R. Ultimately, she figures out a concoction that will put her to sleep for three days at a time. Then, she wakes up, eats one slice of mushroom pizza, showers, and goes back to sleep for another three days.
There is a lot to this book that I'm not covering here, such as her unlikely friendship with the pitiable Reva (her friend from Columbia) and the deep sadness related to her parents' untimely deaths. Ultimately, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a story of depression, a mockery of our modern fascination with "self care" / "me time," and a dark portrayal of "adulting" in New York City. Honestly, I think Moshfegh is brilliant (she does too!!). She's also from Boston, so...
This is definitely worth a read. It's perhaps the opposite of uplifting.