Friday, March 26, 2021

My Year of Rest and Relaxation - Ottessa Moshfegh

Welp, what a year it's been!

My last blog post was in February of 2020, and who could have foreseen what would happen next?  Well, the scientists for one.  Doctors, epidemiologists, virologists, people who know about tourism activity, basically anyone paying attention to the news.  Honestly I'm surprised we didn't have a raging pandemmy much sooner, given how little regard many people have for the safety and wellbeing of others.  There's also the fact that our security (especially here in the U.S.) is based almost entirely upon commerce.  The last year presented us with many lessons, none of which we will take to heart in any meaningful way.  

This novel felt so suited to the barge of dysfunction that was 2020. Do you like to read about people dealing with grief?  Do you like to compare and contrast how privilege and physical beauty can alter how a person is able to respond to that grief?  How wealth can allow a great deal of flexibility in behaviors that would otherwise be seen as abhorrent in the working class?  What is it that makes one person's doctor shopping and pill popping seem glamorous while another person's eating disorder and alcohol use disorder seem pathetic?  How is individual grief felt differently than grief felt across a family or society as a whole?

These are some of the broad themes of My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.  

I'm a sucker for books set in New York City where bright young things have to scrap and scramble to survive the big city.  Personally I'd hate to live in a big city for any length of time.  I don't want to have a shower in my kitchen, and I don't like sharing walls with neighbors.  But I do enjoy reading about other people having these experiences, if only so I can sit on my gilded throne aka the $60 secondhand couch that I bought from a church whereupon immediately afterwards I slightly damaged my car by doing donuts in the parking lot. 

This may be the perfect novel for social isolation.  The main character is responding to loss by holing up in her apartment and trying to sleep through the depression caused by mourning.  She's a trust fund baby so she doesn't have to try to work though her grief, which sounds lovely at first until you realize that forcing yourself to work or maintain social connectedness through the rough patches in life are the healthiest ways to recover from trauma.  There's definitely an element of wallowing, like actual physical wallowing, where our narrator takes to her bed except for the periods when she's sleepwalking.

I have a friend who sleepwalks so this is familiar to me, so there were several chapters where I was internally screaming "USE A SLEEPING BAG AND WEAR OVEN MITTS," which would have made for a much more boring novel. 

There's also a vibe of only needing a few basic things to be happy, which feels nice after a year of mostly staying home.   You start to look around and think "why do I have so many shoes?" Silly feet, remember going to stuff?  Remember high heels?  Yes they do, and they do not like it.  This is a great book to read if you're interested in doing a little spring cleaning and being grateful for what you do have: shelter, friends and family, food, and some entertainment.  

Anyway, reading about voluntary isolation after a year of involuntary isolation may not sound like fun to everyone, but it's Lent and we're still waiting for everyone to be vaccinated, so buckle in for what will hopefully be the final few months of this saga.  Because let's face it, you've already watched everything on Netflix already anyway.