Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I found myself frequently thinking about Holden Caulfield. Specifically, about his status as the internet’s favorite fictional whipping boy. Whenever the online discourse turns again to the topic of “books you think are overrated” or “books that you hated reading in school” or “books that are red flags if they’re someone’s favorite,” you can be sure that Holden Caulfield is due for another beating. Spoiled. Privileged. Whiny. You know the drill.
Perhaps if more people read My Year of Rest and Relaxation, it’s nameless narrator might come in for some of that treatment. On first look, she should be a sympathetic figure. She’s a young woman whose parents are both dead, and who never received much love from them when they were living. She’s also severely mentally ill, as revealed by the premise of this unusual novel: she wants to spend as much time as possible asleep, essentially drugging herself into a near-coma in order to somehow reset her life.
But whatever sympathy the reader might feel towards the narrator is quickly eroded by her repugnant behavior. Her refusal to engage with her own life is bad enough, but her selfishness and cruelty to others repeatedly crosses the line. Her one friend, a former college roommate, is a woman struggling with her mother’s illness and conducting an ill-fated affair with her boss. The narrator treats her horribly, and since the reader is privy to her private thoughts we know how poorly she thinks of her.
Honestly, the whole book feels like little more than a prank, a deliberate provocation by an author whose first priority is pushing the reader’s buttons. Everything about the novel is just so extreme, and as one unlikely thing after another piles up, the reader is less inclined to care at all. It all comes to a conclusion that would be shocking if it felt even a little honest.