The Short Review: A New York Novel to its core. It's smart, vulgar, wince-inducing and you're going to hate everyone...and I think that's the point. If you liked New People by Danzy Senna, this has some similarities in tone and 'quirkiness'. To be clear, I enjoyed it.
The Long Review: I haven't been so baffled by a book...I can't even think of the last time. I went in knowing absolutely nothing except that it was polarizing and I loved the cover. To be fair, I go into most books without knowing anything, but this one was harder to navigate. It follows an unnamed narrator as she decides to spend a year doped up on prescription pills and avoids any and everything. Everything that follows is surprising and the way the story unfolds is totally unexpected. The writing is great, the characters are surprisingly realistic given the tone of the book, and I could not put it down.
To be fair, I love New York novels. There's something a little grimy, gritty, and uncomfortable about the art world and the seedy business world that you don't seem to see in stories taking place anywhere else. So, because I'm biased towards New York stories, I might be biased in liking this book. I also liked Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted--this novel has similarities to those--so, I'm pretty sure My Year of Rest and Relaxation was written for me as a reader. Actually, if I could sum this book up in three titles, I’d say it’s a mix of Prozac Nation, American Psycho, and Everybody Rise. (I know, that’s a strange combo, but you’ll get it if you read it.)
The writing is stellar. It’s sharp, satirical and there’s not a throwaway sentence. I’m not kidding, I actually laughed out loud several times. It’s all so poignant. Also, she has a way of taking words that already make you uncomfortable and putting them in a context so cringe-inducing, you’ll want to shower at books close.
Speaking of cringe-inducing, this novel is NOT for everyone. It’s filled with unlikeable characters, the plot is hair-thin (intentionally; it’s a stream of consciousness narrative), and as I said before, it’s vulgar. The word ejaculate is used at least six times. So, if you hate any of those things, you'll probably hate this book. I actually love ‘unlikeable’ characters, am all for a stream of consciousness style, and felt that the vulgarity fit the world.
There’s not much more I can say without diving too deep into the goings on of this story, and I hate telling people what happens in books. So, those were my spoiler-free thoughts. If you’ve read this book, my spoiler thoughts are below…I have several. To anyone off to read this book, hope you enjoyed the review and I’d love to hear your thoughts when you’re done!
1.) Did anyone else expect the narrators gross boyfriend to die at the WTC? I like most all characters I read, but there’s something so specifically despicable about a man using a woman that I can’t find any redeeming qualities for. Although, as much as I hated him, I thought he was written well enough to not be one of those eye-rolling men you see in Lifetime movies who’re just ‘bad’. His complexities were interesting to me.
2.) I knew where this book was going about halfway through, but the way it happened was just really interesting to me. I loved the artist observing her during her blackouts, and I wondered what all she’d opened up about during that time.
3.) Here’s the reason I loved this book. There was a time, before 9/11, when we were a little less alert to things, where we found it easier to focus on petty stuff and when we could spend a year drowning our woes in prescription pills without feeling like the world around us was literally crumbling. 9/11 was sobering to anyone who remembers the before and after. I was a kid, and I still remember that giant shift. I think the same sobering, awakening moment, is happening right now. We lived in this happy, blissfully ignorant world for eight years under the Obama Administration, where we thought racism and bigotry were dead and gone. 2016 really brought out the amount of hate people have for minorities, and we’re awake to that more than ever. For some reason, it takes a major event to sober us up to these realities, and I think this book shows that. I’m not comparing the election to 9/11, by the way, just saying they’ve both caused major shifts in how we interact and the way we see those around us.
4.) I actually liked the narrator by the end. I thought she was problematic and that she wouldn’t be a great person to hang out with in real life, but I thought she was a real human person. Those people, messy and complicated, are my favorite to read about.
Anyway, those were my main thoughts I’ve had since finishing last night. I’d love to discuss and unpack this book more. If you’ve read it and like to discuss, leave a comment down below or find me on instagram @shelfbyshelf. Thanks for reading!