The unnamed narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2018 novel, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” is painfully cringey as she drifts in and out of sleep for one year. The narrator is an Upper East Side shut-in who was recently fired from her Columbia graduate art gallery job. As she struggles with mental illness and extreme cynicism, she concludes a proper solution is a year of solid sleep. Throughout the narration, she expresses dangerous thankfulness for her sleep: “Oh, sleep. Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom, the power to feel and move and think and imagine, safe from the miseries of my waking consciousness.” Her placid hostility toward the waking world tones the chapters as she seeks uninterrupted slumber.
Against literary norms, Moshfegh has created a disgusting female character. The narrator is nastily selfish and pitifully neglected in terms of human connection. Her parents are less than great, and her only two visitors are her toxic pseudo-best friend and her ex-Wall Street boyfriend who mentally and physically abuses her.
As this spoiled rotten 20-something grants herself a year-long vacation with sleep and infinite prescription medications, the reader is left questioning her motives. She is brimming with confidence about her self-diagnosed treatment when she says, “My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”
The novel ends on September 11, 2001, when she purchases a VCR in order to record the news coverage of the planes crashing into the twin towers. As she watches the destruction, she reflects on the state of her future with the only two people in her life.
Moshfegh’s novel is a bit of an ode to privileged whininess, but for readers, it is an active attention holder during our year of quarantine and stress.