My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

This book strikes me as a project where the writer undertook a kind of post-modern experiment in exploring or communicating something about certain aspects of humanity by taking things to the extreme. Not exactly satire, although it has those elements (especially in the descriptions of contemporary art pieces and the invention of certain pharmaceuticals), but a literalization of something we usually look at as an abstract phenomenon.

An unnamed character–a superficially pretty young woman, graduate of Columbia, menially employed in an art gallery–experiences absolutely everything (e.g. the death of both of her parents) with deeply detached irony, and has no capacity for sincere emotion. (Or maybe it’s there, but she’s so incredibly twisted up that she’s completely unable to express it?) So she finds an unscrupulous psychiatrist, Dr. Tuttle, to prescribe her fistfulls of sedatives and hypnotics, both real and fictional (she takes Ambien, and Lunesta, and Seroquel, but I started to catch on that not everything was real when she gets one called Prognosticrone. . .), and endeavors to spend the year sleeping. Attended by an annoying, bulimic friend named Reva and an insufferable contemporary artist named Ping Xi, she largely accomplishes this. That’s pretty much it.

There’s a lot that could be said about the sociological stuff packed in here. The novel is set in 2000-2001, and includes a fair amount of technology that was outdated even then. There are odd obsessions with unlikely celebrities. There is also 9/11, although this, mercifully, would not fall in the bucket of novels that started coming out around 2005 that dealt earnestly with the impact of those events on New Yorkers. There are clearly questions about the role of art , and surely something to say about the fact that the narrator’s inheritance quietly renders money–including residence in a doorman building in Manhattan–a non-obstacle. But I don’t particularly feel the need to mine all that, because really, although it seems like Moshfegh ably accomplished what she set out to do, I prefer fiction that trades in sincerity.

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