My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

In the late 90’s/early aughts, Volkswagen had an ad campaign with the tagline, “Drivers Wanted.” Even in my early 20’s I was a jaded consumer of advertising. I knew I was being manipulated by marketing, but I would watch the commercials and think, “I’m a driver.” And I bought a Volkswagen. I mean, I spent two years doing research before I bought it so it was a reasoned choice, but I suspect the ads helped me feel good about the decision.

Moshfegh’s writing speaks to me in a way similar to the way those VW ads spoke to me. Both seem to confirm something in me that I already believe about myself.

In a way, this is a novel of false hope. The narrator and her friend are my age, the youngest of the GenXers, moving into adulthood as a blue dress brings down a president and as airplanes bring down skyscrapers. They are each parentless in one way or another, each trying to make sense of the world in her own way, trying to cleanse the body and the mind and the spirit and come out the other side pure and serene and with, if not understanding, at least acceptance for the myriad ways in which the world is effed up. And (spoiler alert) the narrator succeeds. She declutters beyond all decluttering, she empties herself and her world, and is left with the realization that the future is being created in every moment, and in every moment she is creating the future, and that none of it makes a difference, really, at all.

Which is a kind of freedom, and it’s a true freedom. The trouble is that freedom doesn’t stick with us. We can’t interact with the world and maintain that level of equanimity. You go on the yoga retreat or the silent meditation retreat or the epic bender, but life always sneaks back in. No matter how quietly you tiptoe about, the crap of the world is ready to ease its way back in, along with the false hope that the things we do really mean something.

Um, yeah. So. I’m not sure if Moshfegh’s writing speaks to me because it’s great writing or if Moshfegh just writes in a language I understand. Either way, it speaks to me.

Drivers Wanted.

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