Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Narrated by Julia Whelan
Published July 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook copy through my local library
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.
I saw this book on Netgalley before it came out and was drawn to the cover so I read the summary and decided to pass on it. My gut told me that it wasn't the book for me. But so many people loved it that I finally decided to give it a try. I should have listened to my gut.
This book was named on of the best books of 2018 by The Washington Post, Time, NPR, Amazon,Vice, Bustle, The New York Times, The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly and Audible. Which makes it one of those books that makes me feel stupid. Whatever in the world did those people get out of this book that I missed entirely?
Yes, yes, dark humor. Yes, yes, provocativeness. Yes, yes, existential. All things reviewers have praised. The thing is, I like dark humor, I'm not opposed to provocative, and even existentialism doesn't put me off a book. Maybe it's all of it in one book that put me off. Maybe it's the fact that I had a hard time finding much of anything redeeming about any of the characters in this book. Even knowing that I should feel some measure of pity for a young woman who was raised by uncaring parents and who is now an orphan, I had a hard time for most of the book feeling sorry for our unnamed narrator.
And yet. Sometimes my cold heart did feel sorry for her, did understand that part of the reason she was the person she was was because of the way she had been raised and the fact that even if her parents weren't very nice people, they were her parents. And sometimes I felt like the whole point of her year of sleep was because she understood that she was a terrible person and that her life was shallow. And, while Whelan did a fine job of narrating, I tend to listen most while I am driving and often at 1.25 speed (because I always have a backlog of books to listen to because all of my library holds come in at once). I can't help but wonder if I might have gotten more out of this book if I had picked up the physical book. Because, toward the end of the book, there was a moment when I gasped and understood that a part of me had become attached to one of the characters at least.
Still, I do have that backlog of books to listen to waiting for me and I still feel like I should have trusted my gut and moved on to the next book.