Sadness is relative, and this is the overwhelming theme in Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. In the year 2000, a young woman has everything one might need to be happy. A recent Columbia graduate in her 20s, enviably thin and beautiful even at her worst, she lives in New York’s Upper East Side with enough inheritance to last a long time. But there is a hole in her heart that her youth, health and wealth can’t fill, and her answer to fix this mishap is to literally sleep it off.
With the help of a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs, prescribed by the world’s worst psychiatrist, the young heroine sinks into a type of hibernation, surfacing only to take us on a journey of her sad childhood and even more despairing adulthood. Each revelation supposedly unloads the baggage for good and cleans the slate for when the hibernation ends. Keeping her company through it all is her endlessly optimistic best friend, Reva, who has a dying mother, unfulfilling job, failed relationships and poor self-confidence, and at times seems more deserving of our sympathy than the narrator.
True to her style, Moshfegh’s dark sense of humor makes the reader laugh (perhaps guiltily) when it seems least appropriate. Melancholic, ominous and even uncomfortable, My Year of Rest and Relaxation traverses a labyrinth of emotions as a young New Yorker learns to define her sadness and hope in the days leading up to September 2011.