READ FOR FILTH: MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION
We’re talking Read for Filth’s book club pick, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. SPOILERS ABOUND.
ADRIENNE: Jeremy! I’m so excited to talk about MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION with you! This book, girl. I feel like I’m going to need your both our brains to parse it all out. But let’s start here: almost nothing happens in this book, but I couldn’t put it down. How did author Otessa Moshfegh do that?
JEREMY: GIRL. I KNOWWWW. I have a lot of feelings. The one thing I felt more than any other though is … NOTHING IS HAPPENING WHY CANT I STOP READING THIS SHIT. I mean that in the most positive way. I kept thinking it wasn’t real, that maybe there would be some sci-fi switch-a-roo at the end and we’d discover our main character (WHO DOESNT HAVE A GD NAME HOW ANNOYING) was her mother or a robot or a dog or a ghost or something. Uhhh … spoiler alert … that does not happen.
ADRIENNE: I mean, this gal just takes drugs and sleeps. That’s all she does for a million pages. Sometimes her friend comes and visits. Hahaha. All I know is I was like, wow, mad props to Otessa Moshfegh because that is some real writerly sorcery, to have like zero plot, but not have it be boring meditative drivel.
I’m still not sure if this book is satire. I mean, it’s not. But it’s not realism either. Like the therapist character is clearly meant to be over the top, a sick read of the entire psychiatry / psychotherapy industry. And the amount of drugs our narrator takes is insanity. But all that insanity is meant to help us understand this character. How do you understand her? Is she depressed?
JEREMY: OH MY GOD. That therapist. That cannot be real. I guess it really is probably, but holy god. There are bad everythings, though really I think she helped our girl sorta? She gave her what she wanted without much hassle anyway. Was she depressed? Part of me says yes, but mostly I thought … this person is in a deep DEEP state of grief. I thought she was just insane until they end up on Long Island at her friend’s house. All that stuff she said about her parents was so telling to me. I think she was so neglected and full of grief she just needed a break from life. Is that depressed? Maybe.
ADRIENNE: I mean, yes, that is depressed. Hahhahaha. But I think what really works about this book, and what is really difficult to achieve in a first person narration, is that she tells us over and over again that basically she’s a misanthrope. Look around you, the world is shit, she says. Might as well sleep. (Hard to disagree these days…*watches cute videos of kittens on repeat*) But as readers, we can see around everything she is telling us to the grief she is experiencing at the loss of her parents and their general neglect / disinterest in her.
JEREMY: Yeah, I guess that’s depressed. I think what made me really struggle to say ok, this is depression, is that the character is really on a WHITE PRIVILEGE RUN. She’s gorgeous (she tells us that over and over), she has enough money to live off of her parents (WHILE JOBLESS), and is pretty shitty in general. So like … IS that depression or is she just a sad little white girl with money to burn? I know, I’m being heartless, but now that I’m done with the book I wonder if I wasn’t just watching somebody act out for 280 pages. While I couldn’t put the book down, I was also sorta grossed out by her behavior.
ADRIENNE: Well, it’s an interesting question. Is she white because white privilege is what allows a character to believably behave this way? Or is she white because the question is, even when you have everything - looks, money, privilege - it’s still sometimes not enough?
JEREMY: I think yes … privilege allows what she was doing … and I sorta had a hard time getting past it to tell you the truth. I must have read this whole book with my jaw on the floor because it felt like a privilege performance. BUT I see where you’re coming from with the other idea … ALL THE STUFF … doesn’t fix anything and it’s not enough … but I think those two things sorta feed each other. To me, having all the stuff to try to feed the hunger and the option to fix yourself … is the very definition of privilege. Maybe? I’m being hard lined about this, and maybe too hard and not fair. It’s just a thing I thought about while reading.
ADRIENNE: When I think about it critically, I think, well the author made her white on purpose. Probably because that privilege allows her to behave in this way. To go into the corner store for coffee, all disheveled, get things on credit, not be arrested, etc. Potentially if she’d been another race, or male, there would be many more questions. Like, sure she’s depressed, but like an entire history of oppression could be weighing into her depression. So the selfishness of it, the emptiness of it, is a very sort of white thing. I feel like so many white male authors have made entire careers over white male existential angst. LOL.
Let’s talk about Reva! You think she’s the worst?
JEREMY: Totally fair and on point. Uhhhh … yeah … Reva is THE WORST. But … All of these people are the worst. It’s like a parade of terrible. She’s that friend you have who comes over, borrows money for dinner, talks about herself the whole time she’s with you, and then asks for a ride home. Though, so is the main character … so I don’t know what my point is. HA!
ADRIENNE: See, I didn’t hate Reva at all. She seemed to me a very realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a woman in your twenties in New York. She’s always uncomfortable, ya know? She’s uncomfortable with her weight. She’s not sure how to deal with her mother dying. She’s got this friend who’s an utter mess, but who she still looks up to in a totally delusional way. I had a lot of sympathy for Reva. And of course she died in the World Trade Center. I mean the real waste of a life is Reva.
JEREMY: I hear what you’re saying. BUT … I was like who is this loser person who’s putting up with all this crazy shit. I’d be out. How many times does a person need to pass out on you for you to be like … I can’t be friends with this bish. AND OMG. The 9/11 thing. I felt that coming. Not necessarily Reva dying, but I knew there was going to be a 9/11 moment. Was that fair? We had already been through all the depression and death and other death and slowly coming back up for air and then … dun dun dun NINE ELEVEN. Lord.
ADRIENNE: Girl, I knew there was gonna be a 9/11 moment from like the first page. As soon as I knew it was the year 2000 in NYC.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about our narrator essentially coming back to life at the end. You?
JEREMY: Yeah. It was kinda weird. It was so direct after all that dreamy drug stuff. It was nice to sorta have a button on the story, but it did feel pretty aggressive. I was like, so … this is a 9/11 book? It was kinda weird. I was assuming as that date got closer that the narrator would just die in the towers.
ADRIENNE: Hahahhaah, I didn’t think she was going to die in the towers but as symbol for life, 9/11 is it, and it felt like a natural conclusion to me.
JEREMY: I just didn’t know how the book could end if the narrator didn’t die in the towers? I’m always trying to figure out the end game, it’s a bad habit … I can’t stop it. As an ending I thought this one was fine, I guess it’s sorta open ended … but WHEW LORD … it was heavy handed.
ADRIENNE: OK, last question - WHOOPI GOLDBERG. React to this quote from the author:
Who do you most wish would read your book?
Whoopi Goldberg. If you read My Year of Rest and Relaxation, you will learn that the protagonist venerates Goldberg as the apotheosis of authenticity and absurdity in a world of pretension and farce. And so do I. I’ve been a fan of Goldberg since I saw her in The Color Purple on VHS when I was nine. Jumping Jack Flash and Burglar convinced me even more that she was a genius. Her particular talent to poke through every scene of fictional film as a real live human being, therefore undoing the illusion of cinema, was a powerful influence on me as an artist back before I even knew I was a writer. I’ve always been obsessed with the layers of performative reality obscuring reality in its true form. Goldberg is my hero because of this. I would love for her to read my book simply because it is a message of appreciation. I love her.
JEREMY: Ahhh … Whoopi is my favorite. I basically 100% agree with Moshfegh. I saw The Color Purple when I was a baby person and was so moved and have been obsessed ever since. Whoop (because in my mind we’re friends) does have this DEEP TRUTH that she’s always sharing. I feel like it’s her job ALWAYS to cut through bull shit. She does that in movies and she certainly does it on The View. She might be the only person I trust. I love her. AND. If you haven’t seen or heard her solo show (the thing that basically made her super huge famous) … you gotta. It’s really great.
ADRIENNE: One time I was watching The View and Whoopi took off her Croc and left it on the outside of the table for like the entire rest of the show. Just this fucking orange Croc sitting in the middle of the shot. It was amazing.
JEREMY: That’s what I mean. She’s always living her truth and demanding you to do the same. LOVE. HER.
ADRIENNE: Well I love MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION and I think everyone should read it. And I’m so excited to announce our next book club pick, CIRCE. This book is like on everyone we know and loves best of 2018 list and we’re going to read it over the holidays when we are avoiding our families. JOIN US!