Opening sentence: “Whenever I woke up, night or day, I’d shuffle through the bright marble foyer of my building and go up the block and around the corner where there was a bodega that never closed.”
Like your books deadpan, witty and satirical in tone? Then you’ll love My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Our unnamed lead character can be described as: complex, educated (she went to Columbia University), living off her inheritance from her now deceased rich parents, in a damaging on/off relationship with Trevor, in her early 20s, blonde, possessing of beauty that she doesn’t particularly like (‘Being pretty only kept me trapped in a world that valued looks above all else’), selfish and apathetic (I know, she sounds delightful.) And YET she has surprising spurts of compassion that make her interesting and compelling. She is also Whoopi Goldberg’s biggest fan.
She hates her job in an art gallery and finding herself generally dissatisfied with life, she decides that sleeping for a year would be a good way to re-charge her batteries and get a new outlook on life. (I can relate to this thought.) She finds herself a dodgy psychiatrist, Dr. Tuttle, who is armed with a prescription pad she is willing to use frequently. And it is used VERY frequently. In her quest to be asleep more than awake, our narrator takes an inexplicable amount of prescription drugs, ‘soon I was hitting the pills hard and sleeping all day and all night with two or three hour break in between. This was good, I thought. I was finally doing something that really mattered.’ I had a Google and some drugs she takes are real (Valium), some are invented (Maxiphenphen), her aim being: ‘If I keep going, I thought, I’d disappear completely, then reappear in some new form. This was my hope. This was the dream.’ Infermiterol (also a made up drug ) is her strongest hitter; it causes blackouts so she wakes up to Chinese food, new clothes and no memory of what she’s been doing. Favouring this more intense state, she comes up with a risky solution to end her blackout adventures.
Despite trying to live a life of solitude, her friend Reva always finds a way to pop into her flat, ‘I don’t know what it was about Reva. I couldn’t get rid of her. She worshipped me, but she also hated me.’ Theirs is not the healthiest friendship, but it’s through Reva that we see the softer side of our narrator and ultimately makes her seem less like a parody. Reva is also the only one to call her out on her hibernation project: ‘”I’m not a junkie or something,” I said defensively. “I’m taking some time off. This is my year of rest and relaxation.”‘
(Aside: I’m a fan of coincidences and the lead character here talks about The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, which is weird as that is the book the fictional book club in my digital read right now – Never Have I Ever by Jocelyn Jackson also read. I’m taking it as a sign. Will add it to my TBR list.)
I really, really enjoyed reading this. It had a refreshing quality that set it apart from my other recent books (I thought it had similar vibes to My Sister, the Serial Killer) and the metamorphosis narrative theme was just far enough away from reality to make it satisfying.
/ Published by Jonathan Cape June 2018
/ 289 pages
/ Rating: 4/5