100 Books That Defined the Decade
For good, for bad, for ugly.
Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018)
Oh, sleep. Nothing else could ever bring me such pleasure, such freedom, the power to feel and move and think and imagine, safe from the miseries of my waking consciousness.
Essential stats: Jia Tolentino wrote in her review of the bestselling novel that Moshfegh is “easily the most interesting contemporary American writer on the subject of being alive when being alive feels terrible.” EW ranked it as the best book of 2018, Leah Greenblatt calling the unnamed narrator “one of the most compelling protagonists modern fiction has offered in years: a loopy, quietly furious pillhead whose Ambien ramblings and Xanaxed bitcheries somehow wend their way through sad and funny and strange toward something genuinely profound.”
What made it defining? For one thing, it was perfectly tonally defining: though the book was set in 2000 and 2001, when it was published in 2018, almost everyone (at least everyone I knew) could relate to the desire to sleep for a year. Just watching the news for twenty minutes was (and some days, still is) enough to make me start fantasizing about hibernation.
Perhaps more importantly: one of the most marked literary trends of this decade was the surge of female protagonists with flat affects, disaffected manners, and cold, even caustic, even cruel, even angry, personalities—i.e. “unlikeable” women; clutch those pearls and see the entry for The Woman Upstairs—and Moshfegh’s unnamed narrator is a sort of pinnacle of them all.
Also: this book is a goddamn delight, especially if you, like certain unnamed people in the Literary Hub office, are secretly an extremely cynical and grumpy ex-mean girl with no heart of gold whatsoever.
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