Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Published: July 12, 2018
Publisher: Penguin Press
Where I picked up my book: Library
Key Words: Mental Health, Contemporary Fiction, Relationships, Alienation
My Rating: 4 star
Synopsis (via Goodreads):
A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. Blackly funny, both merciless and compassionate – dangling its legs over the ledge of 9/11 – this novel is a showcase for the gifts of one of America’s major young writers working at the height of her powers.
First, “a strangely tender novel” is a great descriptor for this one. It’s strange-yep, it’s definitely strange, but it somehow works and made my heart soft and feel fragile the whole time I was reading it. When I first saw this novel, I was like…hell yeah I need a year of rest and relaxation and I immediately began to think of all the things I would do with that year. Firstly, reading would be at the top of that list. I would read all the book without guilt and drink tea and lay on the couch and enjoy. Second, I’d probably hang out with friends more often than I do now. Third, I’d have a real clean house and the laundry would be done all the time. Fourth, I’d hit up the beach and the mountains and plan a few relaxing trips. Oh, and the dog would go on so many walks, and I’d meal plan and prep and get in shape and so on and so on. But then I read a synopsis of the book and thought to myself…so all these people on Instagram that showed themselves reading this book on the beach in their bikini’s didn’t really know what it was about either, huh? But I was still intrigued (after all, Bookstagram made me do it), so I put a hold on it at the library and waited a longggg time to have a chance to crack it open. That’s always a good thing though…it means people are reading and I’m a fan of that. I planned to read it slow and steady, but was completely sucked in from the beginning and finished it in a couple days. It was nothing that I expected, but I was completely engrossed and I’m still thinking about it days late.
Second…can we talk about this damn psychiatrist for a second?! If you’ve read this book, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t…here’s the gist. Dr. Tuttle prescribes the narrator pill after pill after pill with zero regard to her mental state, or ever really listening to her whatsoever when they do meet. In fact, Dr. Tuttle blatantly tells her how best to fly under the radar in terms of filling her prescriptions. To say the least, I’ve never felt so infuriated by a character in all my reading life. I was raging and couldn’t help think of the people I know that are in similar circumstances. Not that their psychiatrists or doctors are THIS ignorant, but they have professionals that are not looking out for them regularly and just prescribing pills without checking in regularly with them, making sure the medication is working correctly, and ensuring that the patient is taking the medication appropriately. This book goes above and beyond what happens in most people’s real life circumstances (I hope) but it is a real problem and something that the world doesn’t seem to be talking about enough.
Third, can we talk about friendship, because this book had me thinking about friendships more than I thought I wold have. The narrator has a friend, really just one main friend, who has no regard to her state of mind or her decision to try and sleep for a year straight. Reva comes over to her house, chats with her a bit and whines about her own life, as the narrator is in and out of drooling sleep, and then leaves. What the hell kind of friend is that?! I hope my friends are better people and if I ever dip into this sort of depression, because that’s really what this is, that my friends will help pull me out of it or at least do everything in their power to get me the help I need. And vice versa if I ever had a friend that was in this situation. So between the psychiatrist and the friend, I was reading this book with my fists in their air. And don’t even get me started on the on again, off again boyfriend who totally SUCKS.
This is a book that is dark and deals with hard things, but it also had me looking at my world, my relationships, my mental health and my surroundings in a whole different light. It reads as if I’m in an Ambien haze…which is quite apropos. Sometimes life is hard, and sometimes it feels overwhelming. Sometimes we seem like we have our shit together, but in reality, we are barely holding on and would rather be anywhere but where we’re at. Sometimes we let our past navigate our present and our future. Sometimes we are so sick and tired of struggling that hibernation sounds way better than dealing with another day of the struggle. So I get it. I get this narrator. But can we escape the pain? Can we erase the problems by ignoring them or blacking them out-no, no we cannot.
Also…in case you’re interested in what kind of person Moshfegh is, here is an interesting article about her. Don’t blame me if you think of her differently now though.