Books I Missed in 2018, Part II

The first snow has hit already.

Just a crispy little dusting but enough to make us wonder about our safety on the roads and remind us of the months ahead.  I guess I got too comfortable cleaning up storm damage on the weekends (some old trees came down in a crazy storm on Halloween night, of all nights) and standing by a bonfire.  I remember other years we were burning leaves well into December.

I am merely getting through the 8 last, darkest weeks of the year in terms of tolerating driving around in the dark every evening.

Christmas reads are duly being consumed but it’s not time just yet for such things.  I have two more books today that I missed in 2018 that I was happy to get in this year.  These novels are thick with all the things that need to be said.  Which means I took frequent breaks into genre stuff, but life is all about balance, no?

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Otessa Moshfegh

A woman of privilege around the turn of the millenia is looking to escape her feelings and participation in life by sleeping. She uses a cocktail of drugs to truly pull this off, and through an examination of her past, the reader gradually isn’t surprised why she needs this time to be alienated from an adult life that on the outside looks perfect.  She is looking for renewal once she has slept enough.

So this one was not a big priority on the missed in 2018 list, but it was on Audible sale, and routinely came up on best of the year lists, so I thought I’d give it a go.  I almost put it down after 20 minutes of listening to the absolute waste and squandering of privilege. She launches straight into how she just wastefully spends money and sleeps while barely caring for herself, throwing out expensive underwear only worn once to not do laundry, living in an expensive apartment on her inheritance and dirtying her expensive furniture beyond salvation.  Just filth and sloth and privilege and I almost couldn’t do it.

Just in time, my curiosity took over.  Before I was so turned off I DNFed a well reviewed book 20 minutes in, I started to get curious about what led this woman here, and led to her deep depression, complete with lethargy and feeling that participating in life was pointless and to be actively avoided.  I wanted to know where the author was going to take it. I also thought because of the cover it was a woman in Victorian times where I believe that sleeping all the time to deal with sadness (back then, madness?) of someone privileged could be more Gothic and dramatic.  But no, it was a woman trying to recover from her childhood, just doing it on a floating cloud of privilege. It was funny, the psychiatrist was hilarious, the art gallery too, but it was sadly commentary and true to life. It wasn’t that much of a reach for these caricatures to be believable.  And I felt sad for her friend Reva, struggling with her own feeling of pointlessness in a more common way. Reva reminded me so much of people I have met in my life who have felt empty. And then when the narrator breaks into her apartment when she is at work, I can’t get some of the images from that out of my mind.  So astute, especially on top of Reva’s history, shown through the narrator’s participation in her mother’s funeral that she would not have attended but decided to when in a haze of Ambien and woke up on the train on the way there with a suit.  

It’s my first time reading Moshfegh, and she was on my list from the accolades that Eileen got that I never got to either, and this book has been haunting me in the weeks since I read it.  Despite my crazy busy full time mom life, I come back to thinking about it in times my brain is slowed down. I think that’s a true testament to the power of her writing. She hooked me into something I initially found very off putting and then I spend weeks still thinking about it?  So powerful.

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There, there Tommy Orange

These are interwoven narratives of native Americans living in modern America, their stories and what it means to be native, culminating in an ill fated pow wow.

I hate to sum up the book I believe I saw on every best of the year list and heard it mentioned on my book blogs in one sentence, but this book really isn’t about the plot.  I think all the ones I read as something I missed in 2018 that was on best of the year lists was more about the message they convey about our culture and times, and this one was about the modern native experience in the United States.  It was one of those that has the astute observations of the world, and for me, it described the native experience, the poverty and the substance use and the trauma, through stories. It had a lot to say but through characters you grew to care about, even ones too mired in their substance use to care for their children, which is something I can have a hard time with, being a mom and working with kids.  But it reminded me that I’m privileged and so very intact in my WASP upbringing, my white religious ancestors coming over while we were still colonies and setting up shop here. And I’m imagining why it’s been listed as such an important book of the year. Good fiction nowadays finds its way to making powerful statements through stories. I suppose it always has, but I guess the definition of what is a powerful and important statement through the years has changed, hence the Pulitzer awardees not always being stories about the plight of white men and wars.  Now the books make statements on climate change, marginalized people, the absurdity of modern life.

Like everyone else, I recognize the value of this book and that it’s truly well written.  I also had to take breaks with my diversion books because this was heavy. Characters I cared about made bad choices I could understand but still didn’t want them to make.  Bad things happened to everyone. I won’t tell you I feel privileged in the fact that I can even take breaks for lighter things. But I needed my things. I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad I’m adept at changing up my narratives so I can take breaks from the train wrecks I see coming.

Because Thanksgiving is sooo late this year I’m hoping that next week isn’t too soon for the holiday reads.  It’s 30 days out from Christmas and I am taking breaks from posting today to look at Christmas gifts for my son.   I’m not ready to deck the halls, but I’m not minding the warmup into the holiday season.

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