[#RapplerReads] Escaping life through a year of sleep: A dream or a nightmare?

Giselle S. Barrientos

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[#RapplerReads] Escaping life through a year of sleep: A dream or a nightmare?
Reading Ottesa Moshfegh’s despondent, dark-humored ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ felt like anything but its title

Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project of the BrandRap team. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.

Fair warning: This book is far from the Eat, Pray, Love story you’d expect from its cover.

The spine of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation is awash in a pastel pink color, the book fronted by a docile muse looking wistfully into the distance, seemingly free from any earthly tethers. The book’s narrator, however, would be the complete opposite – the epitome of a white, privileged American 20-something in 2000s New York; she is on top of the food chain with her lifelong wealth, modelesque beauty, and Cambridge education.

She has everything – except the will to live. The unnamed narrator embarks on her journey to sleep life away for a year, through cocktails on cocktails of prescription sleeping pills enabled by the equally zany Dr. Tuttle, in the hopes of a rebirth. “I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me,” said the narrator. 

In her moments of consciousness, we readers become privvy to every jaded, vain – and frankly, quite unlikeable – thought in her head. “Watching her take what was deep and real and painful and ruin it by expressing it with such trite precision gave me reason to think Reva was an idiot, and therefore I could discount her pain, and with it, mine,” she once says about her best (and only) friend Reva.

So what lessons can readers pick up from one of the most unpleasant and unrelatable protagonists in contemporary literature?

Rest and Relaxation became a character study on unhealthy coping mechanisms. The two prominent characters, our narrator and Reva, model a yin-yang of extremes on dealing with emotional trauma and mental turmoil. Our narrator wants to shut herself out from the world though slumber, while Reva puts on her rose-colored glasses and throws herself into society’s hustle culture. A common thread between both women is that life simply does not feel enough.

Between the cracks of the narrator’s detachment from the people in her world – all with their own host of personal issues – we see glimpses of her vulnerability when she remembers her childhood. Growing up with cold and distant parents, we see how she became resigned to a life of shallow connections and a loss of faith in others. ​”None of us had much warmth in our hearts,” she says about her family. 

Sleep became her salvation then and now. Coincidentally, it was one of the only activities she and her mother enjoyed doing together.

It took me many tries across four years to finish this book, mostly because I found the narrator unbearable. It was only when I was going through a period of isolation in my life that I found humor in the narrator’s thoughts, like she gave words to the darker parts of my brain that I didn’t dare to explore alone.

The book is polarizing and provocative, funny and infuriating. It feeds on the intoxicating voice in your head that likes to hate the world. But my perspective took a turn for the better when I realized that no one can escape anger and alienation, even those who have all the material things in the world, and it can burn the hope out of us. Perhaps rest gives us time to see the good in things again. – Rappler.com

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