hot girl depression, I whisper to myself
you like me, you like me not... on book-clubs, likability, and Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
Twice in my life have I been trusted with a choice both vitally significant and deeply personal: which book to choose for my mother’s book-club.
Reading is an intimate act, and picking the next book for book-club is impossible to do without revealing something intimate about yourself. An insincere choice, like feigning jest or professing a random selection, suggests that one is aware of the vulnerability of this choice and is attempting to use humour or nonchalance as a shield.
A sincere choice, made out of either love or hate, is for those ready to open up their raw thoughts and feelings to group discussion.
Both times I have chosen the book-club book my choice was deeply sincere. I wanted to choose something fun and sophisticated, thought-provoking and enjoyable. If I’m being deeply sincere now, I wanted the ladies to think of me as fun and sophisticated, thought-provoking and enjoyable. And both times I have chosen the book, I have felt exposed when I know they’ve started reading.
What if they don’t like the book? What if they think I am unserious and shallow?
The first time I chose a hybrid fiction/non-fiction book about life inside sororities. Though not in a sorority myself, I was in my later years of undergrad. I suppose I felt grown up picking something “more serious” than fiction, and perhaps I wanted to share a little of what my experience of being a young woman was like. The details of the book and the discussion have escaped me, but I remember feeling very nervous the night of, faced with the prospect of hearing the group’s opinions. I probably had one too many margaritas.
The second time was just a few months ago. I haven’t been to book-club in a very long time — although I did make it to a meeting during one of my visits home — but the ladies are still going. I find this a comforting constant in this chaotic time.
I had been texting with my mom for advice on how to care for my first serious houseplant (a kentia palm called “Ted” Theodore Logan) and our discussion drifted towards current reading material. She said it was her turn to pick the book-club book. I asked if they’d read anything by Ottessa Moshfegh. She said no and asked if I had… Let’s jump to the end now, you know where this is going: her local library’s copy of Lapovna was checked out so she choose My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
After she told the group her choice, I began to ruminate. What had I just asked my mother and her book-club to read? What were they going to learn about me? Or worse, what kind of negative assumptions would they make about my worth as a person based on this book?
Suddenly, my current favourite book seemed unseemly. There’s a blowjob! The main character poops in the art gallery she gets fired from! And worst of all, she is definitely not a Likeable Girl.
She has everything. Literally. She graduated from Columbia. She owns her flat in Manhattan. And she is tall, thin, and blonde. She knows these facts about herself and she is severely depressed anyway. Her money comes from both her parents having died in quick succession. And she recently got out of a toxic, power-imbalanced relationship.
We “meet” her when she has decided that deal with her depression by attempting to sleep for a year with the help of increasingly potent pharmaceuticals.
Who hasn’t felt like taking a year off like that?
Her beautiful exterior is why she can navigate social interactions during her depression and self-drugging. But it has done nothing for her interior self-esteem. As she says, “I learned to float on cheap affections gleaned from other people’s insecurities.” This is why she cannot understand why her best and only friend, Reva, keeps coming to hang out and check in. This is why she wants the artist from the gallery to use her nearly lifeless body in his “art”. This is why she eventually sleeps nearly 24 hours per day, letting her body deteriorate on purpose. Simply hiding her physical form from the world wasn’t enough. She needed to turn inside out to hide from herself.
What else is there to say?
She is not a very active or responsive friend to Reva. She engages in some pretty unhinged, cliché crazy ex-girlfriend behaviour with the toxic ex. Oh, and it’s set in 2000-2001, and it ends on September 12th. So, that looms over everything the whole time.
This is not a likeable girl, and this is not a happy story.
My recommendation for this book could not have been more enthusiastic.
By now, it should be glaringly obvious to everyone reading this overly personal book review that the main unlikable characteristic I share with our main character is the desire to escape the unstoppable onslaught of thoughts in my head. In this way, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a really unhealthy kind of fantasy for me. But I didn’t fully understand that part of my relationship with the book until I asked other people to read it. I was sure they would see this immediately.
Of course, according to my mother’s account of the discussion, they did not hate the book and, by extension, hate and reject me as a person. While I was over-thinking this entire experience, the book-club ladies were reading an interesting story, like they had the month before, and like they were about to do again. They were not analysing the psychology behind the book choice, asking themselves what is wrong with Rachel?
Maybe in another 15 years, if I am invited to make the book-club book choice, I will have learned to pick a book with a little less emotional resonance. Or, best-case scenario, maybe I will have learned, finally, that most things don’t require 1,000 words of rumination.
interested in even more of my thoughts on unlikable female characters, including myself? invested in my plant parent journey with Ted? subscribe!!!