To sleep, perchance to hardly dream at all, until days turn into weeks and months and eliminate the need to be awake for anything more than a snack, a little light housekeeping, and maybe a change of underwear. That’s all the unnamed narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s strange, exhilarating My Year of Rest and Relaxation wants.
And so she self-medicates with a purpose and dedication that verge on the devotional, a high priestess of obliteration. Not because life has handed her so many lemons — she is young and rich and beautiful in a time and a place, Manhattan circa 2000, where those things are only at a premium — but because she simply does not want the lemonade.
Alone in her Upper East Side tower, she lives like a princess in a fairy tale, and her own Rumpelstiltskin, too: casting a spell made of Ambien, lithium, Valium, Xanax, trazodone, and liquid Benadryl. (As far as there is a handsome prince, a one true love, his name is Trevor. He works in finance, and most days he won’t take her calls.)
She is also an only child, recently orphaned; from the memories she has of her parents, cloth monkeys in a lab experiment probably would have made kinder, more benevolent caregivers. And since being fired from her job at a downtown art gallery, her social interactions are largely confined to the rotating staff of the bodega downstairs; her deeply unhinged therapist, Dr. Tuttle; and her indefatigable best friend, Reva, who represents everything she isn’t — short, brunet, high-strung; a misguided lover of married men and dedicated follower of doomed diet plans.
If this all sounds grim or claustrophobic, it isn’t; it’s more like one long, unbroken conversation with your smartest, most self-destructive friend. Moshfegh writes with a singular wit and clarity that, on its own, would be more than enough. (Her 2015 debut, Eileen, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Rest has already been optioned for film by Australian actress Margot Robbie.) But the cumulative power of her narrative — and the sharp turn she takes in its last 30 pages — becomes nothing less than a revelation: sad, funny, astonishing, and unforgettable. A