Ottessa Moshfegh’s second novel, released in 2018. I read a first edition hardcover from the library.
4 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
A young New York City art gallery employee wants to sleep through her life. No dreams, no memories, just blessed blanks to fill out the days. A questionable therapist assists her in her quest.
I tried reading Moshfegh’s first novel, Eileen and though I loved the straightforward, caustic narrator, I realized after a hundred pages that there wasn’t enough story to keep me going. It kept circling a situation I wasn’t interested in.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation has a similar swirling plot and sardonic lead, but this time it worked for me. I love New York City stories (and podcasts and movies… I love the rhythm and humor and intelligent fuck-you-ism of NYC artists). I intensely connected to the narrator, so much that it took me until page 188 to realize she hadn’t been given a name.
A note of warning: this is a don’t-try-this-at-home story. Some elements may be upsetting depending on where you’re coming from. The narrator takes fistfuls of pills constantly with little consequence; the dangers of addiction or overdose is not what this book is about. This is not Less Than Zero. It’s not some after-school-special cautionary tale. It is a book for people who don’t need warnings against tying plastic bags around their heads. I respect that. I respect this book’s respect for me.
There’s a Fight Club vibe here: a friend who often appears as though “summoned” by the narrator’s thoughts, the inability of the narrator to know what she’s doing when “asleep”, the unnamed narrator in general… I was expecting a twist that (thankfully) did not come. My Year stands on its own, as its own thing.
[They] played Z100 on the radio.
WHTZ (100.3 FM) – branded Z100 – is a commercial Top 40 (CHR) radio station licensed to Newark, New Jersey and serving the New York metropolitan area. The station’s transmitter is located at the Empire State Building. The first air date was July 31, 1961 and the slogan is “New York’s #1 Hit Music Station.
I loved Reva, but I didn’t like her anymore. We’d been friends since college, long enough that all we had left in common was our history together.
She’d given me a Dooney & Bourke wallet for Christmas once.
Dooney & Bourke is a company specializing in fashion accessories, such as handbags, luggage, bracelets, watches, and briefcases, as well as a limited clothing line. Most products are made for women. Founded in 1975 by Peter Dooney and Frederic Bourke, Dooney & Bourke products range from $60-$850. Its headquarters are in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Reva had bombed the GRE.
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States. The test was established in 1936.
“We’re all alone, Reva,” I told her. It was true: I was, she was. This was the maximum comfort I could offer.
A lifestyle tip from Get the Most Out of Your Day, Ladies.
Invention of Moshfegh’s.
“I wanted to be an artist, but I had no talent,” I told her.
“Do you really need talent?”
That might have been the smartest thing Reva ever said to me.
I pictured her sniffling through Gristedes.
Gristedes is a New York City-based chain of small supermarkets. It serves a mostly urban customer base and was founded in 1888. It currently has 31 locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“Are you DEA? FDA? NICB? NHCAA?
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is a North American non-profit membership organization located in Des Plaines, Illinois. It was created by the insurance industry to address insurance-related crime and works closely with law enforcement agencies. Much of NICB’s focus is on motor vehicle theft.
Founded in 1985 by several private health insurers and federal and state government officials, the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association is the leading national organization focused exclusively on the fight against health care fraud.
A wooden bowl of peanuts in an abalone shell.
Abalone is a common name for any of a group of small to very large sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs in the family Haliotidae. Other common names are ear shells, sea ears, and muttonfish or muttonshells. Abalone are marine snails. The shells are attractive to humans are decorative objects, jewelry, and as a source of colorful mother-of-pearl.
“I’d say you’re what, twenty pounds below an ideal Quetelet index?”
Another name for the body mass index (BMI). Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874), a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician and sociologist, devised the basis of the BMI between 1830 and 1850 as he developed what he called “social physics.” The modern term “body mass index” was coined in a paper published in July 1972.
“Daily meditation has been shown to cure insomnia in rats.”
[I] worked out at an overpriced gym, lay in the hammam there until I went blind.
A Turkish bath (Turkish: hamam; Arabic: hammam) is a type of public bathing similar to a sauna but more closely related to ancient Greek and ancient Roman bathing practices.
I thought that if I did normal things – held down a job, for example – I could starve off the part of me that hated everything.
A YSL blazer and tight leather pants.
Yves Saint Laurent.
An unflattering outfit from Comme des Garcons.
Comme des Garcons is a Japanese fashion label founded by and headed by Rei Kawakubo (b.1942). It is based in Tokyo and also in the Place Vendome in Paris. It was founded in 1969.
Natasha’s star artist was Ping Xi, a pubescent-looking twenty-three-year-old from Diamond Bar, California.
Diamond Bar is a city located in eastern Los Angles County, California. The 2014 population estimate was 56,784. It is named after the “diamond over a bar” branding iron registered in 1918 by ranch owner Frederick E. Lewis.
A nineteen-year-old who went to Pratt.
Pratt Institute is a private, nonsectarian, non-profit institution of higher learning located in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, with a satellite campus in Manhattan and an extensive campus in Utica. The school originated in 1887 with programs primarily in engineering, architecture, and fine arts.
I’d always loved sleeping. It was one thing my mother and I had enjoyed doing together when I was a child.
She looked like Lee Miller if Lee Miller had been a bedroom drunk.
Lee Miller (1907-1977) was an American photographer and photojournalist. She was a fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became a fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she was a war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.
She wrestled her white feet into her fake Louboutin stilettos.
Christian Louboutin (b.1964) is a French fashion designer whose high-end stiletto footwear incorporates shiny, red-lacquered soles that have become his signature.
“Oh, isn’t that pretty?” she said about a Kandinsky, a Chagall.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting one of the first purely abstract works. (He was also referenced in David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, note .)
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin. An early modernist, he was associated with several major artistic styles and created works in virtually every artistic format. He experienced modernism’s “golden age” in Paris. “When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” (He was also referenced in John Fowles’ “The Ebony Tower”, note .)
I’d studied Zeno’s Paradox in high school algebra but never fully understood it.
Zeno’s paradoxes are a set of philosophical problems generally thought to have been devised by Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea (~490-430 BC) to support Parmenides’ doctrine that contrary to the evidence of one’s senses, the belief in plurality and change is mistaken, and in particular that motion is nothing but an illusion. Some mathematicians and historians hold that Zeno’s paradoxes are simply mathematical problems, for which modern calculus provides a mathematical solution.
“Die young and leave a beautiful corpse. Who said that?”
Quote Investigator has a great article looking into this (from January 31, 2013 “Live Fast, Die Young, and Leave a Beautiful Corpse”).
The questioner says that they always connected the saying to James Dean (which is what I thought), but Quote Investigator links the earliest use of the full motto to a 1920 newspaper account of a “proto-liberated woman in a court case.” The motto appears to have been widely popularized in the 1949 film Knock on Any Door. If James Dean did say it, it seems he was quoting the film.
I could hear him on the phone making a reservation for two for dinner that night at Kurumazushi.
Established in Manhattan in 1977, Kurumazushi has been serving both New Yorkers and an international clientele some of the freshest and most delectable sushi in the world for over 35 years.
I invited him to come to the [New Year’s Eve] party with me in DUMBO.
Dumbo (or DUMBO, short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The area known as DUMBO used to be known as Gairville. The acronym ‘Dumbo’ arose in 1978, when new residents coined it in the belief such an unattractive name would help deter developers. Even so, the acronym was largely unknown as late as 1997.
My slippers were brown suede with shearling on the inside.
Shearling is a skin from a recently shorn sheep or lamb that has been tanned and dressed with the wool left on. It has a suede surface on one side and a clipped fur surface on the other.
As if I just blinked, I woke up on an LIRR train.
The Long Island Rail Road (reporting mark LI), legally known as the Long Island Rail Road Company and often abbreviated as the LIRR, is a commuter rail system in the southeastern part of New York, stretching from Manhattan to the eastern tip of Suffolk County on Long Island. It is the busiest commuter railroad in North America with an average weekday ridership of 354,800 passengers.
“I thought maybe you could come with me and we could drive down to Massapequa.”
Massapequa is a hamlet and census-designated place in the southern part of the Town of Oyster Bay in southeastern Nassau County, New York, on Long Island. It is adjacent to Amityville in Suffolk County. As of the 2010 census, the CDP had a total population of 21,685.
“Everybody thinks their dreams are weird, Reva,” I said.
A plate of cheeses, crudité, dip, cookies.
Crudites are traditional French appetizers consisting of sliced or whole raw vegetables which are typically dipped in a vinaigrette or other dipping sauce. Crudites is a French term, literally “raw things.”
I sensed Reva’s misery in the room with me. It was the particular sadness of a young woman who has lost her mother – complex and angry and soft, yet oddly hopeful.
I studied Picasso’s The Old Guitarist. The Death of Casagemas.
The Death of Casagemas is one of several memorials Picasso dedicated to the young painter who had shot himself in Paris on 17 February 1901.
Carlos Casagemas (1880-1901) was a Catalan Spanish art student, painter and poet, best known for his friendship with Pablo Picasso.
I looked like Amber Valletta.
Amber Valletta (b.1974) is an American model and actress. She began her career as a fashion model, landing her first of sixteen American Vogue covers at the age of eighteen.
Rejection, I have found, can be the only antidote to delusion.
It was a good hug. Reva had always been good at hugs. I felt like a praying mantis in her arms.
“You know, I don’t think you can use ‘condole’ that way. I think you can ‘condole with’ someone. But you can’t ‘condole’ someone.”
verb – express sympathy for (someone); grieve with.
(“the priest came to condole with Madeleine.”)
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.
 Fact check:
“You know, like in San Francisco when that bridge collapsed? (…) I was watching the World Series when it happened,” Reva said. (…) “You’re like, thousands of people just died.”
“It’s wasn’t thousands.”
“A lot, thought.”
“Maybe a few hundred.”
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred in Northern California on October 17, 1989. The shock was responsible for 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries.
My vision pixelated, moireed, then blurred and womped back into focus.
To give a watered or clouded appearance to (a surface).
“When something disappears, that’s usually where it disappears – into the black holes in our eyes.” I couldn’t remember who had said it.
I can’t find a quote like this, though four years ago, user fallingfreon posted on Reddit:
Our eyes are black holes consuming light and information around us.
“Jacques-Louis David: Art, Virtue, and Revolution.” The Death of Marat was one of my favorite paintings. A man stabbed to death in the bathtub.
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. David later became an active supporter of the French Revolution and friend of Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794).
The Death of Marat is a 1793 painting by David of the murdered French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. It is one of the most famous images of the French Revolution. The painting shows the radical journalist lying dead in his bath on July 13, 1793 after his murder by Charlotte Corday.
The numbers I had dialed were Trevor’s and an unidentified 646 number.
Are codes 212, 646 and 332 are area codes for most of the borough of Manhattan.
Three Brearley girls in tracksuits formed a line at the counter.
The Brearley School is an all-girls private school in New York City, located on the Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan. The school contains kindergarten through 12th grade, with approximately 50-60 students per grade. The school was founded by Samuel A. Brearley in 1884.
I ordered Pad See Ew from the Thai place.
Phat si-lo (also transliterated as pad see ew, pad siew, or pad siu) is a Chinese-influenced stir fried noodle dish that is commonly eaten in Thailand. The name of the dish translates to “fried (with) soy sauce.”
“I’ve had such a day. I can’t even tell you.” But there she was, telling me.
I ordered (…) a cubic zirconia tennis bracelet.
Cubic zirconia (CZ) is the cubic crystalline form of zirconium dioxide. The synthesized material is hard, optically flawless and usually colorless, but may be made in a variety of different colors. Because of its low cost, durability, and close visual likeness to diamond, synthetic cubic zirconia has remained the most gemologically and economically important competitor for diamonds since commercial production began in 1976.
I just felt a tingling feeling in my hands, an eerie tingle, like when you nearly drop something precious off a balcony, but don’t.
He had flattered me, and reminded me that my stupidity and vanity were still well intact. A good lesson.
“In a sweeping vote of one hundred to zero, the Senate has confirmed Mitch Daniels as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget for the freshly minted Bush administration.”
Mitch Daniels (b.1949) is an American academic administrator, businessman, author, and retired politician who served as the 49th Governor of Indiana, from 2005 to 2013, and a Republican. He served as the director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget until June 2003.
We buried her in a carnation pink Thierry Mugler suit.
Thierry Mugler (b.1948) is a French fashion designer. He created his first personal collection in 1973.
Westside Market. Riverside Park. 1020. The West End.
I think 1020 is a bar at 1020 Amsterdam Ave, New York.
A dozen bags of groceries from D’Agostino’s.
Great Food. Great Service. For Almost 50 Years.
Everything Made Fresh Daily – Party Platters & Catering Services
Individual Heat’n’Server Dinners – Chips, Soda, Juices, Fruit, Desserts
Subs, Sandwiches, & All Types of Salads and Sides
“They kind of fit,” she said, trying on an unworn pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Manolo Blahnik (b.1942) is a Spanish fashion designer and founder of the eponymous high-end shoe brand.
Someone left a collection of books out on the curb one day on East Seventy-Seventh Street, and I brought them home and read them cover to cover. A history of drunk driving in America. An Indian cookbook. War and Peace. Mao II. Italian for Dummies.
Good pick! (see review)
“I just read this story in the New Yorker,” she said. (…) The story was called “Bad at Math.”
I think this is an invention of Moshfegh’s.
Ping Xi had painted me in the style of Utamaro woodblock prints.
Kitagawa Utamaro (~1753-1806) was a Japanese artist. He is one of the most highly regarded designers of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, and is best known for his bijin okubi-e “large-headed pictures of beautiful women” of the 1790s. He also produced nature studies, particularly illustrated books of insects.
In Artforum, Ronald Jones called me a “bloated nymph with dead man’s eyes.” Phyllis Braff condemned the show as “a product of Oedipal lust” in the New York Times.
Artforum is an international monthly magazine specializing in contemporary art. It was founded in San Francisco in 1962 by John P. Irwin, Jr.
Ronald Jones appears to be a writer for Artforum, but I can’t find much else about him.
PHYLLIS BRAFF, an independent critic and curator, wrote a regular column of art criticism for The New York Times (Long Island Section) for several decades.
Here’s the recommendation test: if the cover caught your eye and made you laugh or smirk, you’ll probably like this book. Even if Eileen didn’t work for you (as it didn’t work for me), give My Year of Rest and Relaxation a shot. Moshfegh is on my radar now and I’ll check out anything she publishes.
Also, if you like this one, read Moshfegh’s short story collection, Homesick for Another World. I’m not going to give it a full review, but it’s a four-star collection.
Next week, Samanta Schweblin’s newly translated collection A Mouthful of Birds.