Review: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

I feel like this book succeeded only because of the cover?

“I trusted that everything was going to work out fine as long as I could sleep all day.”

I can see why this would get recommended next to The Idiot. They both feature that period between college and whatever comes after. But whereas The Idiot is focused on a more introverted introspective character, this book is similar to the art in it: living on those in-your-face shocking comments. Like, anyone wanna read about a character taking a shit on a museum floor? Go ahead and check out My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

I saw a reviewer mention HBO’s Girls, and I can definitely see fans of the show eating this kind of writing up. However, this wasn’t my style. It took me about halfway through the novel to realize there would be nothing new in this novel, just this endless rinse and repeat of self-loathing and drug intake. AKA: the point when I realized I do not like this storyline at all.

I just kept waiting for that moment to hit when there would be some introspective insight or some deep connection or moment of realization for the main character. Some growth. It never came. This is just a suicidal pact of taking in as many drugs as possible.

“Nothing seemed really real. Sleeping, waking, it all collided into one gray, monotonous plane ride through the clouds. I didn’t talk to myself in my head. There wasn’t much to say. This was how I knew the sleep was having an effect: I was growing less and less attached to life. If I kept going, I thought, I’d disappear completely, then reappear in some new form. This was my hope. This was the dream.”

When the goal is to disconnect from reality, this numbness can lead to the reader not feeling attached to the story at all. “Life was repetitive, resonated at a low hum.” The book, too. The whole of this book can be summed up as: “I can’t sleep, I need to dissociate, I’m taking this drug and mixing it with this sample from my drug dealer doctor…. and where am I and what happened these three days?” Rinse-repeat. I wish I were exaggerating.

Speaking of, Dr. Tuttle reminded me of that realtor in Broad City. She even has the same cursed neck brace, too.

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My favorite side character in the show. However, in this book the negligence on Dr. Tuttle’s part is too much to bear.

“There was no shortage of psychiatrists in New York City, but finding one as irresponsible and weird as Dr. Tuttle would be a challenge I didn’t think I could handle.”

Too much.

All I wanted from this book was for some emotion or some moment of clarity to shine. To give insight. It was all empty. Head empty, no thoughts. Or many thoughts, let’s drug them out.

– Spoilers from here –
And then the most infuriating is this abrupt ending where the main character (literally can’t even remember her name because all she does is… nothing throughout the whole book) gets up, brushes herself off, and she can seemingly walk away from her addiction with no problem, no withdrawals…. I am confusion.

Also: If I could count the number of times the main character (yep, still can’t remember her name even though I spent five days reading this book) goes out of her way to repeat how pretty she is and, oh, skinny. I wished any side character would be present in the book to condone her actions.

The only thing this book had going for it was the spark it ignited every now and then. That’s the sole thing that kept me going in my reading experience.

“Maybe I’ll ask my dad for money to pay a matchmaker.” “No man is worth paying for,” I told her.” This. “As an art history major, I couldn’t escape them. “Dudes” reading Nietzsche on the subway, reading Proust, reading David Foster Wallace, jotting down their brilliant thoughts into a black Moleskine pocket notebook. Beer bellies and skinny legs, zip-up hoodies, navy blue peacoats or army green parkas, New Balance sneakers, knit hats, canvas tote bags, small hands, hairy knuckles, maybe a deer head tattooed across a flabby bicep. They rolled their own cigarettes, didn’t brush their teeth enough, spent a hundred dollars a week on coffee. They would come into Ducat, the gallery I ended up working at, with their younger—usually Asian—girlfriends. “An Asian girlfriend means the guy has a small dick,” Reva once said.”

Now, I can’t stop spotting these dudes around the city.

“And then there were the dreams about my parents, which I never mentioned to Dr. Tuttle.”
“In a few dreams, I’d answer the phone and hear a long silence, which I interpreted as my mother’s speechless disdain. Or I heard crackling static, and cried out, “Mom? Dad?” into the receiver, desperate and devastated that I couldn’t hear what they were saying.”

These were the kind of moments I wanted more of in this story. Like this next line on her childhood home:

“I wanted to hold on to the house the way you’d hold on to a love letter. It was proof that I had not always been completely alone in this world.”

Moments like this almost made me like the main character. But then it gets drowned in her sea of drugs and numbness.

In all honesty, I think I might favor The Idiot over this any day.

Cynical Hopeless Romantic Reviews: The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles

“Man, I really have got to stop reading so many of those cheesy romance books.”

It’s that time of the year again where I’m in need of some mindless romance to not think for a second and just enjoy myself. I’m here to receive my recommended dose of serotonin through someone else’s romance life. Is that bad?

So… She’s not like other girls, hm.

Funny how I thought the movie was over the top in its acting… turns out it’s pretty accurate to the book. If it’s not those over-the-top dramatic gestures and speeches that nobody in real life says, it’s the utter convenience of Elle running into Noah wherever she goes. Or the parents leaving just when Elle enters to hang out with Noah. Ah, turns out this college student kind of missed the nonsense of Wattpad stories.

For real though, the first half of this book gave me all the giddiness of staying up late into the night to finish reading Wattpad stories. I have to stop and give a shoutout to my favorites! Ahem:

  • The Cell Phone Swap – I’ve reread this story at least seven times by now just for chapter 16. I’m obsessed.
  • The Bad Boy’s Girl – This one is more for the nostalgia, less for the actual story. Every time I revisit this story I’m taken right back to the first time I read it. It’s so rare for me to remember my own state of mind during the books I read so this one stands out. Also, the game created on Episode for this storyline still makes me laugh out loud. I especially love the Youtube gaming series by jennxpenn playing the episodes. Give it a watch for a good laugh.
  • My Wattpad Love – I revisited this one recently and was shocked by the main love interest being kind of everything I hate now. But I still adore Shane more than Evan. I think the main attraction for this storyline was this edit made for the book that made me discover Jeremy Kapone as Maël in the movie LOL (2008).

I love how without even trying I reverse to 13-year-old me when talking about these stories. Like, imagine how big of an impression they left on my younger self, so much so that I can still recall specific details of the storyline and my original reaction. That nostalgia hits different…

Circling back to the actual book I’m reviewing: Love the romance, hate the couple.

The Kissing Booth reminds me of my reading experience with Summer Skin, where you’re hyper focused on the romance scenes even though you hate the couple.

Speaking of romance: CHAPTER TEN!! READ CHAPTER TEN!! I couldn’t have cared less for the storyline that didn’t center on the romance so I skipped straight to the kissing booth, and damn, what a good choice. The first ten chapters of this book add nothing to the storyline because all of Elle’s friends and school life get dropped to sneak around with Noah. So starting from chapter ten is the go-to move with this book.

I am here solely for the romance/rush of hormones. You know that feeling you get watching a scary movie, the scary music starts building up and you just know something is about to jump out – that moment of feeling your heart in your chest – that same thrill is what romance books give me. That feeling of a rapid heart rate when the main characters are staring at each other, waiting for someone to make the first move. Like, that drop in your stomach when something big finally happens, or really anything happens, is addicting. This is why I love romance books. The kind that focuses on drawing out the kisses and not just jumping to humping. This was the only thing addicting about Twilight: how the author can spend nearly five whole pages describing Bella and Edward leaning in for a kiss. They take it ultra slow and draw it out to the most so that we could practically feel everything Bella felt.

But with a love interest as controlling as Noah, I can only ignore it if the main character challenges him and doesn’t give in to his fake charm. I like it when the main character isn’t afraid to tell him what’s what – to keep him in his place and not let him step all over her. My favorite line in Summer Skin says it all:

This… was not that. In a healthy relationship, you aren’t afraid to voice your opinions. If you have a healthy relationship, you can explain your point of view and say, listen, this is concerning me for all these reasons. In Elle’s case, she would overthink how to word something to Noah so he wouldn’t overreact and yell.

“He looked me up and down, very slowly. Instead of blushing, I sighed internally. Here we go. I wondered how angry he’d be.”

Like, red flag, anyone?? And it drove me wild the number of times the author went out of her way to say Elle wasn’t afraid of Noah when he was acting out, but really that she was afraid of her feelings of him or some bullshit. Or the atrocity of Elle having to intervene and calm Noah down like she’s his horse whisperer. This is an almost 18-year-old boy, not some 8-year-old. He needs anger management, not a girlfriend caretaker. The bar is so low for these Wattpad girls.

I can’t stop laughing at the ending where Elle’s basically saying yeah, there’s no chance of him staying loyal to me at Harvard so maybe we’ll last, maybe we won’t… The expectations were so low of Noah.

This is what I mean with: Love the romance, hate the couple.

But if you’re looking to disconnect from reality for a bit and just dive head-first into a silly romance story, this is your sign:

Review: Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

Hey yo, suburban mom check.

In all seriousness, reading the blurb of this book, I had an inkling it would remind me of the film Tully, which I talked about here, featuring that intimate bond that forms instantly in close quarters between moms and caretakers of a newborn baby. Being on the receiving end of someone’s non-judgemental and kind spoken nature was magnetic. So I started reading.

“It was five o’clock in the morning. In a moment, the baby would wake. She wondered how long their bodies would remain in sync like this, hers anticipating what his was about to do.”

It’s like those people that wake right before their alarm clock goes off. Science?

Within the first page, I felt the potential this book would hold. I usually mark passages I like throughout my reading experience but then out of laziness tend to not write it down after I’m done reading. But this book was too good to forget what I liked about it. I felt it in those lines that immediately provoked an “oh, I know that feeling.” Like each sentence presents a memory of its own. I mean, let me ask the audience:

“Carrying out otherwise mundane tasks in a foreign country felt like an achievement. Small victories like catching the right train or learning the funny names of things in the grocery store: Rocket. Aubergine. Fairy cakes.

I love this.

And:

Elisabeth scrolled until she came to the place where she’d left off before bed.

Or this next detail, painting how Elisabeth lurks in the mom FB group so much, she remembers past milestones of the others: “Mimi Winchester, who had recently purchased a townhouse for three million, was selling a used boy’s coat, size 2T, for nine dollars.”

The ins and outs of Facebook groups, similar to WhatsApp groups, you can quickly catch someone’s personality based on their replies. 

“Half the pleasure of the group was talking about it with someone in real life. ”

This right here captures exactly why I watch certain people on Youtube only to later discuss them in real life with my younger sister.

I took joy in passages that felt revealing on the intimacy of everyday thoughts.

“She wished she had thought to record the conversation, or that she had brought a pen and paper to take notes. Maybe there was a book in all this. The pitfalls of trying to make friends in middle age, or suburban moms who drink too much.”

“It was her way of drawing a line between them and herself, playing the observer so she didn’t have to care whether or not she fit in. She’d been doing it all her life. Andrew said she was like this because she was a writer, but he had that backward; she was a writer because she was like this.”

I wonder if writers really note down real life conversations to later build on that in their own world.

Though I was impressed by the writing, I couldn’t shake of my growing annoyance at Elisabeth’s privilege. Like, I couldn’t bear to hear her complain about some slight inconvenience in her rich life because that would require an absurd amount of patience that I simply do not possess right now. Oh, woe is Elisabeth…

What is privilege? Read this:

“Elisabeth felt guilty enough without the reminders from George. When they still lived in the city, they got food delivered almost every night for dinner, even after she read an article about how the website they ordered from was killing restaurants. She always meant to tip in cash, because the article said it was the only way to be sure the delivery guy got the money. But many nights, she didn’t have any small bills, so she just added the tip online and hoped for the best, giving the man who arrived at her door an extra-wide smile as she took the warm paper bag from his hands.

This made me frustrated. This is why I could not warm up to her character. If anything, the author succeeded at writing that one person we all know who’s completely unaware to the world around her. The author knew what she was doing with crafting this character. I could definitely see Elisabeth growing to be like Elena Richardson in Little Fires Everywhere.

#little fires everywhere from dumb bitch energy.

Elisabeth becoming aware of her privilege at the end was too quickly skimmed over, in my eyes. It didn’t leave a lasting impression. I’m sure a lot of white suburban moms will read this book so I wished it would’ve lingered a bit more on those moments and discussions that raise difficult questions.

Sam, a struggling college student, coming in right at this time to save the day was much needed. Having this dual-perspective made me love this book more. Even seeing Elisabeth through Sam’s eyes made me view her differently. Sam definitely understood the assignment.

“They never had actual voice-to-voice contact anymore. There were no hellos or goodbyes, just an ongoing conversation that they picked up and ended several times throughout the course of a day.״

When I think back on all my favorite parts of this book, Sam is always present. She left a lasting impression. More so, the nature of her changing relationships during her senior year of college. Oh, and Clive the Creep? No, thank you. I felt so annoyed when Sam would have these moments of clarity sneaking into her conscious of “hmm, maybe this way older dude isn’t for me…” And then she would just push it right back down because she wasn’t ready for things to change. It’s so frustrating seeing someone you love waste their best years on someone who doesn’t deserve them.

“Aren’t they adorable?” Sam said.
“I’m taking notes,” Clive replied. “That’ll be us before long.”
He stood behind Sam and wrapped his arms around her. Elisabeth wanted to snatch Sam away, to carry her to safety. For the first time ever, she wondered if she ought to call Sam’s mother.”

I felt this throughout the book. How do you stop someone from making a colossal mistake?

Also, captivating is the psychology behind our thinking. Like, Sam and Elisabeth each think their own thoughts about the other’s actions but don’t feel the need to share because they’re on good terms and why sour the mood. I support your choice even if I silently disagree. But then when it all comes racing out, what has been pent up inside of them throughout the novel, it felt cathartic.

“But I know you, Sam. You have this great family, you love kids, you’re super mature. You want to skip the big steps and be there. But everyone has to take those steps. It’s all the mistakes you make in the middle that determine how strong you are at the end. You can’t hide behind this thing with Clive forever.”

They see each other clearly with all their faults and imperfections. Everything Elisabeth voices is something Sam has thought before in her own mind but then pushed away because she’d rather not say goodbye to this chapter in her life. It’s beyond difficult trying to stop someone to see the mistake they’re about to make.

The psychology of planting a seed in someone’s mind and hoping it grows in their mind in the right moment. Like, Sam using someone else’s words in an argument. Ah, just those feelings of finally confronting what you’ve been running from was an experience to read here.

The hardest lessons were the ones you had to learn over and over again.”

Readers who would like to delve more deeper into the discussions brought forth, check out Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Also, readers who enjoy the observance of every day life will see it mirrored in Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer.