My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh tells the story of a young woman who decides to spend the year 2000 holed up in her apartment and isolated from the world. She tries to hide from her life, but her best friend keeps bothering her and so does her feelings for her pseudo-boyfriend and for her recently deceased parents.
The nameless narrator is living in that glam NYC Sex and the City setup at the turn of the millennium unfazed by the excitement. She has her friend Reva who she seems to loathe for being upbeat about the future. Reva tries to keep her friend engaged with the world, but her friend is not having it. When Reva experiences a loss, the narrator still can’t find enough empathy to be selfless in the situation. She remains a curmudgeon with the thoughts of her father and her mother dying within months of each other still haunting her. Other than Reva, she only really contacts Trevor who’s usually sleeping with another woman when she calls and acts like he doesn’t have time for her like she doesn’t have time for Reva. To vent her problems, she goes to her aloof therapist who dishes out questionable treatment methods. Finally, the narrator takes extreme measures to really get the rest and relaxation she wants without the distractions after seeing Reva and Trevor move on without her. When she’s satisfied, she finds herself emerging from her submersion as the city is hit with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The narrator is that great unlikable character who acts in ways that are upsetting and annoying yet it’s understandable. Though the book came out a few years ago, the book is enjoying a resurgence as the world grips with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and being forced into weeks of “rest and relaxation.” It also shows that excitement for the future at the turn of a new decade, like now in 2020, and how all that hope can go down like it had in 2001 because of a national traumatic event. The narrator is working hard to ignore the news and enjoy TV reruns while laying on the couch like many are now with the worry around the novel coronavirus. She has everything going for her: her Columbia University degree, her art gallery job, and her rent-control Upper East Side apartment, but she can’t handle it and wants to escape the life she’s unsure she wants.
Overall, the story is well-written and highlights the unlikable character and her selfish desperation. It’s an interesting read for today’s times as 2020 is becoming a year of rest and relaxation for some who choose to see the widespread quarantine that way.