My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Moshfegh)

My Year of Rest and Relaxation  
Ottessa Moshfegh, 2018
Penguin Publising
304 pp.

 A novel about a young woman's efforts to duck the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation with the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the battery of medicines she prescribes.

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn't she?

She's young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance.

But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn't just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva.

It's the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be.

Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—May 20, 1981
Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Education—B.A., Barnard College; M.F.A., Brown University
Awards—Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award (more below)
Currently—lives in New England

Ottessa Moshfegh is an American author and novelist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to a Croatian mother and Jewish-Iranian father. Both parents were musicians, who taught at the New England Conservatory of Music. Moshfegh herself learned to play piano and clarinet as a child.

Education and Career
Moshfegh received her B.A. from Barnard College in 2002. After graduation, she moved to China where she taught English and worked in a punk bar. In her mid-twenties, she moved to New York City where she worked for Overlook Press and then as an assistant to the author Jean Stein. After contracting cat-scratch fever, she left the city and earned an M.F.A. from Brown University.

Ottessa's first work of fiction was the novella "McGlue," published in 2014. Her debut novel Eileen was released in 2015 and won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. The novel was also shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and selected as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In 2017 Moshfega published a collection of stories, Homesick for Another World. Her second novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, was published in 2018.

Moshfegh is a frequent contributor to the Paris Review; she has published numerous stories in the journal since 2012.

Awards and honors
2013–15 Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University
2013 Plimpton Prize for Fiction (Paris Review) - "Bettering Myself" (story)
2014 Fence Modern Prize in Prose - "McGlue"
2014 Believer Book Award winner - "McGlue"
2016 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award - Eileen
2016 Man Booker Prize (shortlist) - Eileen
2018 The Story Prize finalist for Homesick for Another World
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/29/2018.)

Book Reviews
Because this is a novel by the superabundantly talented Moshfegh—she’s an American writer of Croatian and Iranian descent with a name like that of an avant-garde London restaurant—we know in advance that it will be cool, strange, aloof and disciplined. The sentences will be snipped as if the writer has an extra row of teeth.… Moshfegh is an inspired literary witch doctor. She invents many of the drugs her heroine ingests, [which] …have serio-comic names like Valdignore and Prognosticrone and Maxiphenphen and Silencior.… If she’s on downers, the prose in My Year of Rest and Relaxation is mostly on uppers. Like its narrator, this is a remorseless little machine. Moshfegh’s sentences are piercing and vixenish, each one a kind of orphan. She plays interestingly with substance and illusion, with dread and solace on the installment plan. This book builds subtly toward the events of Sept. 11.… Moshfegh writes with so much misanthropic aplomb, however, that she is always a deep pleasure to read.
Dwight Garner - New York Times

This book isn’t just buzzy and maniacally entertaining—it’s a mean-spirited, tenderhearted masterpiece.
New York Post

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is the most poignant, vulnerable, mature, and—dare I say it?—sincere work that its gifted author has yet produced.
Boston Globe

One of the pleasures of reading Ottessa Moshfegh is that—unusually, these days—she rarely writes in the present tense. Instead, the sense of immediacy, the sense of being inside a character, the sense of things happening and having psychic value, both to the writer and her reader, is provided by the structure and content of her sentences. Matter of fact, full of bravado yet always wryly observational, these stack up steadily to construct the brisk interior landscape of her third novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation.… One of the other pleasures of reading Moshfegh is her relentless savagery. All this is delivered as comic—it is comic—but it’s not exactly funny, though of course we laugh.

Ottessa Moshfegh is easily the most interesting contemporary American writer on the subject of being alive when being alive feels terrible. She has a freaky and pure way of accessing existential alienation, as if her mind were tapped directly into the sap of some gnarled, secret tree.… Watching Moshfegh turn her withering attention to the gleaming absurdities of pre-9/11 New York City, an environment where everyone except the narrator seems beset with delusional optimism, horrifically carefree, feels like eating bright, slick candy—candy that might also poison you.
The New Yorker

[A] strange, exhilarating triumph.… Moshfegh writes with a singular wit and clarity that, on its own, would be more than enough.…. 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.
Entertainment Weekly

Darkly hilarious.… [Moshfegh’s] the kind of provocateur who makes you laugh out loud while drawing blood.

You’ll emerge from this darkly hilarious novel not necessarily rested or relaxed but more finely attuned to how delicately fraught the human condition can be.
Marie Claire

Electrifying.… Moshfegh’s narrator’s final gesture, transforming herself into a piece of half-living art, echoes the odd and combative passivity of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, a scrivener who suddenly, inexplicably, refuses to perform his duties.… In a country that celebrates doers, such a preference is grotesque, an inversion of the American ideal of prospering through hard work. But it also serves as a reminder that there is something to life outside the economic exchange of time for money and money for goods, even if that unnamed thing is obscure and perplexing and just a bit monstrous—particularly as a woman. Literature may not have the all the answers, but it can show us the power and allure of saying no.
Vanity Fair

[C]aptivating and disquieting.… Though the novel drags a bit in the middle… ,it showcases Moshfegh's …mix of provocation…. Following the narrator's dire trajectory is challenging but… fascinating, likely to incite strong reactions and… discussion among readers.
Publishers Weekly

Interest in the narrator's long-lasting sleep trial may diminish before the novel ends…, but this work is not nearly as dark[ as her previous Eileen], though it's certainly as provocative and even occasionally funny. —Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis
Library Journal

(Starred review) Moshfegh concocts [her haze] with delirious clarity…. Readers might have trouble “getting” her, but there is one thing they’ll know that she doesn’t, given the time and place. Propulsive, both disturbing and funny, and smart as hell. — Annie Bostrom

(Starred review) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn't advisable, but there's still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story…. A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn't afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion of MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION … then take off on your own:

1. What do you think of our narrator? Is she mentally ill? Or is she the sanest character you've ever come across in literature? Perhaps she's something in between.

2. On the surface, our narrator seems to have it all—good looks, money, education, and a Manhattan apartment. What then is her reason for wanting to sleep the year away? Her motive isn't suicide, so what is she trying to escape … or find?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: The narrator says she's seeking "great transformation." But what kind of transformation—from what … into what?

4. Talk about the state of the world (at least in the U.S) during the year the narrator is checking out; how does the author portray the era? We know that 9/11 is around the corner. Why might the author have chosen to set her story in this particular time, in New York City, and right before the World Trade Center cataclysm? In what way does your knowledge of what is to come (9/11) affect your reading experience or your understanding of the book?

5. Did some (many?) of the narrator's observations and quips ("Caffeine was my exercise") get you laughing? How would you describe her type of humor?

6. If you were Reva, the narrator's friend, what would you do or say to the narrator? What do you make of Reva?

7. Why does the narrator decide that if she can't make art (she tells Reva she has no talent), then she'll become art. What about her project makes it "art"? Once the public sees the completed film, what is their reaction? How would you have reacted?

8. Why does Png Xi want to film the narrator as she burns her birth certificate? The narrator thinks, "He needed fodder for analysis. But the project was beyond issues of 'identity' and 'society' and 'institutions.' Mine was a quest for a new spirit." What does the narrator mean—and why is her "project beyond" identity and society, etc.?

9. Toward the end, the narrator does experience a transformation. She attends the Metropolitan Museum of Art and begins to re-engage. Talk about the nature of that change. How has she been altered?

10. Follow-up to Question 9: As she looks at the paintings of great artists hanging in the museum, the narrator wonders about the artists' lives and whether "they understood …that beauty and meaning had nothing to do with one another." She wonders if the painters would have preferred spending their days walking through fields of grass or being in love. What do those notions mean? Are these thoughts the transformation she hoped to achieve? Do her thoughts suggest a new understanding of life or of consciousness …or of what?

11. Despite the museum guard's warning to step back, the narrator reaches out to touch the canvass of a painting. Why is touching so important?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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