What’s A Year?

In our shared diverse moment a year is different things to people. Universally considered, a year is a measure of time with a beginning and end during which events, growth and change occur.  Depending on where you stand in time you look back upon a year or forward to another.  This issue of Bookisshh considers two works with the word, year in the title and explores a writer’s treatment of this concept.  It’s a short and sweet blog post and both works will leave you shuddering and contemplating the impact and insignificance of time.  Enjoy!

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh / Fiction / Satire

This is a clever and coy premise for setting a story into motion… A young millennial loses her parents and in her response to loss and loneliness seeks pharmaceutical solutions to facilitate an emotional catharsis. The unnamed millennial Image result for my year of rest and relaxationnarrator plans to rest and relax for a year and uses an insane abundance of prescription medication to do so. Further, the narrator is deficient in emotional vocabulary and broad support availing her to contend with healthy responses to loss, so working in conjunction with a pill pimping therapist she lies, represses, denies her truth and sleeps to cope with her pain in a most unconscious way.

Moshfegh demonstrates how easy it is to live on auto pilot—auto billing, auto renewal, and repetition govern her basic survival– food/clothing/shelter–leaving her to bumble through her haze. She shuffles in and out of her New York city condo to the bodega, work and the rare social event with a measured awareness only to return to home to fists full of pills and multiple hours of sleep.

The narrator fritters her time away which is cataloged by the sheer quantity of VHS tapes she purchases, views and views again from the local bodega.  She pretty much works her way through sappy 80s and 90s TV shows, romantic comedies and a couple of classic epic films.
While going to and fro her daily doings, the narrator shares quiet observation and commentary  regarding practices with animals (particularly dogs in the story)  in China in addition to the suspicious underworld of the Egyptian bodega owners or the invisible mafia.
Further context building is found in descriptions of installation and performance art during 1980-90 and the political nature protruding from such works reminding observers of the grotesque and greedy nature of human beings.
It’s all so commonplace and yet so creepy.  Moshfegh weaves an interesting tension for certain.
Characterization is static and flat.  Moshfegh orchestrates the neuroses of her characters in rotational style and the narcissism shared between them serves as glue and barrier for their relationships.
In abstract Moshfegh uses sleep as a character and parent.  Like parents sleep is safe, nurturing, restorative and in the absences of parents a much better option than faith or therapy.
Irony, satire, very dry humor, and masochism significantly impact the tone in this work. Pain and lifestyle teeter between reality and farce making one look into their medicine chest, their soul, their viewing habits and basis for relationships.
Readers may be reminded of Soma from, “Brave New World”  as the narrator looks for quick fixes found in pills to escape the abundance of stress which life affords.
The extreme to which Moshfegh goes listing paragraph and pages long true and false names of pills the narrator pops for 12 hour runs of sleep really draws the fine line between ridiculous and true.
Do we look to pharmacology always a prescription away?  Do we ignore the side effects and treat the real symptoms?  Moshfegh pushes readers off the cliff into the pool of questions regarding pleasure, pain and healing.  She shows how ridiculous we appear when we try to avoid being human.
Both genders are treated fairly in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation.”  Moshfegh doesn’t victimize her female characters and shares their complicity in the nasty naughty behaviors both women and men can engage in.  In this work, men are portrayed as predatory, pathological, uncaring and self interested.

In the story the narrator selects a male artist  to document her final transformation due to his demonstration of his most base self expressed in his aesthetic–he objectifies all living things as trophies and installs them in odd contexts some of them degrading.  The narrator presents herself as a canvas for him to work upon and narrator and readers are largely surprised by the outcome.

Female friendships are skewed by flawed mother/daughter relationships which is psycho emotionally astute. Trapped in their own narcissism the narrator and her best female friend journey through individuation from their family.

The female narrator and secondary characters ride sidecar to each other’s discoveries and enable one another in substance abuse and distorted interpretations of their lives and growth.  The female characters have sisterhood but a dysfunctional one at best.

The last beat of the story suggests one’s letting go of potential and derived fantasies projected onto tomorrow’s longed for reality.  The narrator emerges with clarity and awareness as she let’s go and her best friend simply does so with no choice as 911 punctuates the story.  What does it take to live life well?  How much do we have to lose or gain?  Do our gains and losses make a difference?  What is a life lived well?  Sleep on that…

 

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule / Fiction

Do you ever wonder who writes comic books?  Many of the writers have the credentials of CEOs but want to extend their mission to youth and counter culture to promote meaningful change in the world.  Author, Charles Soule, Marvel Franchise writer pens his freshman novel satirizes on a global scale our concepts of faith and power and the interconnecting role they play in our lives both seen and unseen.
Cool cover. Cool premise—a jazz guy, bass player, wakes up one morning and has received 108 predictions, some world altering, some seemingly small coincidence.  In careful and calculated manner, Will Dando, becomes The Oracle and strategically releases a few predictions to prove his credibility and attract high flyers. To The Oracle flock corporations, hedge fund guys, the Image result for The oracle yearFBI and right wing conservative religious leaders. All want the same thing: control over the future for personal gain. Throw in some plain Jane LL Bean chicks and you’ve got a story questioning who special interests are and why they’re interested at all.  There’s also the large and general public like sheep grazing on the dram waiting to be led to greener pastures of wealth and abundance.

The pace is quick and it reads like a comic book treatment and is likely something my tween-age son would enjoy: hacking, fire walls, super computing, the dark web, stock market, protest rallies, religious demystification, nuclear threat, off shore piles of money and a bottom line value instructing everyone everywhere to play nice in the sandbox.

 

Soule pushes characters and readers to that moment when all nukes are pointed and ready. He asks them to remember that we all want the same thing: to live in peace and maintain a quality of life. It’s redemptive posture and the guys get all the interesting moments.

Soule needs to explore his drawing of women—they seem like men in women’s costumes and it kind of pours sand into his narrative. It doesn’t help that they service the narrative in secondary style which is a comment I will make when I do hand it off to our son who’s being coached to support equality.

Overall, the work raises good questions in a relevant and playful way.  It shows humans at their best and worst and where the numbers in these categories weight.

“The Oracle Year” demonstrates the ripple effect of decision making and that as stakeholders we share responsibility which are things that high end gym shoes and the latest technology don’t do.  Give it a read and hand it forward to a young mind nearby.

 

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