Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation

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Review for "My Year of Rest and Relaxation" by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I’ll say this and I’ll say it again–at this point in my life I will read anything that Ottessa Moshfegh writes. I’ve read all of her novels (McGlue, Eileen, and her short story collection Homesick for Another World) and I consider them not just reading, but something that, for me, is more of an experience. You find yourself entering another world through her words, a parallel universe. Most of the time the universe that Moshfegh writes about is full of ugly and repulsive people who are trapped somehow–in drinking, drugs, self-loathing.

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” follows the same theme of unlikable characters that Moshfegh is known for. The unnamed narrator is young, thin, blonde, and pretty and reminds you of this every 10 pages or so. She is wealthy, lives in a great apartment in NYC and works in a hip art gallery. However, she is depressed. Under a “mask” of having it all, she grows up with cold and unloving parents. Her boyfriend treats her like a doormat. The one friend that she has, Reva, is not really her friend, but a punching bag for her passive-aggressive anger.

In response, the narrator decides to take a year off to sleep, and, in her words, ‘hibernate.’ She finds a psychiatrist in a phone book and tells elaborate lies to get every drug imaginable to sleep and stay that way. For an entire year, the narrator exists in this dreamlike, comatose state of waking, sleeping, recalling periodic visits with her friend, watching old movies, pondering the past, and sleeping some more. She comes up occasionally for air to get coffee, or realize that she’s done weird things while under (partying, shopping, talking to strangers online, etc). When she emerges from her year of sleep, the results are quite profound and (dare I say it) bittersweet.

As with Moshfegh’s last novel, Eileen, the plot is not the strong suit here. This is more of a character study with a depressed, highly unlikable character at the center. As with Moshfegh’s other novels, I could not stop reading this book, even as the character’s behavior completely repulsed me. That’s the gift of this writer though, she makes the ugly somehow appealing.

Definitely read this one. 5 stars.

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Review: Homesick for Another World

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Review for "Homesick for Another World" by Ottessa Moshfegh (to be published on 17 January 2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ottessa Moshfegh is a writer after my own heart. This is not science fiction (although the cover is deceiving) or a happy volume of stories. Each tale here has a dark, flawed, transgressive quality to it. Her characters are all grossly unlikeable, yet they stick you like Gorilla Glue long after you’ve finished reading them. I loved her novel Eileen, and honestly I really just love Moshfegh so much period that whatever she’s got I know I’m probably going to like it. There are about a dozen stories in Homesick, some of which have already appeared in other fiction journals over the years, but it’s cool because they’re worth a second look. In “A Dark and Winding Road” a man gets more than he bargained for on a trip to a mountain cabin. In “Bettering Myself” a thirty-something teacher finds that the key to her own happiness really isn’t a key at all. In “Slumming” a woman finds solace in dysfunctional behavior and drug addiction. All of the characters here are mired in riddles and self-delusion, and I won’t give away the rest of the stories here but please take my word when I tell you that the prose here is definitely top-notch. I’ll continue to read whatever this woman writes.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Penguin Press, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Eileen

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Review for “Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“I kept in the glove box of the Dodge a dead field mouse I’d found one day on the porch frozen in a tight ball…I think it made me feel powerful somehow. A little totem. A good luck charm.”

When I read these words, spoken by our main character Eileen Dunlop on page 9, I knew that we were going to be friends. Seriously. Not because I approve of people keeping dead animals in their cars, but because this is where the true brilliance of this book began. From the first pages you become acutely aware that you are talking to an older Eileen, reflecting back on the events of one week around the Christmas holiday of 1964, leading up to her permanent departure from her unnamed New England town.

This book goes hard on so many levels. It is one of the most fascinating character studies that I’ve read in a very long time. Eileen Dunlop is mentally unstable and a psychiatrist’s dream: she is lonely, self-loathing, sexually repressed, passive aggressive, and neurotic, living in a filthy house with her abusive alcoholic father and sleeping on a rickety cot in the attic. She shoplifts, does not take regular showers, does not wash her hands, and is fascinated by her own bodily secretions (don’t ask, ok?). She works as a secretary in a juvenile boy’s prison and passes her days entertaining herself with lewd fantasies of one of the guards that works there. All of this is routine for Eileen until a charming, enigmatic young counselor begins working at the prison and changes Eileen’s entire world.

I could not get enough of this novel. I loved her voice, the nuances of the narration. Moshfegh’s writing is so skillfully consuming that despite Eileen’s general unlikeable-ness, I never got bored or tired of her. Eileen obsessively self-scrutinizes under a perfect outward mask of self control, and Moshfegh explores every nook and cranny and cobweb of her character’s brain. She is a perfect train wreck, and I could not look away. Eileen was like some rare, never-seen-before insect: intriguing and repulsing me at the same time. As I finished, my first thought was that this is a modern-day revamp of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” with its beautiful descriptions of a young woman’s slow unraveling, a downward spiral into madness.

Be cautioned, however, that this book is not for everyone. A lot of reviewers find its lack of a definitive plot frustrating, the tension too drawn out, the ending a let down. I won’t spoil it, but for all the criticism, the raw power of the character development here trumped all. I can excuse the ending, because for me it was all about the scenery along the ride. And I love every single moment of it.