Something to read during the longest year

By Daniel Dunkle | Nov 13, 2020

What a difference a few days can make.

My deep thought on the snowy election day morning was, “Welcome to the longest day of the longest year.”

By Saturday afternoon, I was watching people dancing in the streets across the country. It was a historic moment. I do not remember a change of president prompting this kind of response at any other time in my life. I would have liked to have been in Philadelphia or one of these other cities for a few hours Saturday evening, but I always remind myself that 99 percent of the time, there is nowhere I would rather be than Rockland, Maine.

I am now in my third season of taking my long walks through the city, and it only seems to get more beautiful.

But let's get back to books. Along the lines of thinking about a long year, I recently read a short book that was popular a while back that seems oddly relevant to endless 2020.

The book is “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh.

It’s not the usual book for me, but I’m beginning to come to grips with the fact I’m not sure I have a usual book anymore.

Anyway, it’s about a rich young woman living in New York City in 2000 and 2001, who decides she wants to sleep as much as possible for about a year. The idea seems to have formed in her that she can go into a cocoon and emerge from it as a better person.

I shouldn’t have liked this book and been able to read it in a matter of a few days. But I got into it almost immediately and couldn’t put it down.

The character should not be likable. She’s rich. She’s spoiled. She's kind of self-pitying. However, she is smart and bitingly honest.

She uses a lot of prescription drugs to keep herself asleep and they are prescribed by a quack psychiatrist, who provides some of the comic relief.

For some reason, the character is obsessed with Whoopi Goldberg and Harrison Ford. The second one struck me as funny, since Wes and I recently made a point of watching all of Ford’s action movies like “The Fugitive” and “Air Force One.”

She is making the argument that these movies are formulaic and not challenging enough to keep her awake, though the Goldberg thing may run deeper than that. Consider the variety ranging from “The Color Purple,” to “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “Ghost.”

The unnamed character is also visited off and on by her college roommate and ostensible “best friend” Reva, who is kind of “basic,” as the young people say. Reva is obsessed with weight loss, reads fashion magazines and talks in cat poster platitudes.

The book should be a hard sell. The protagonist is asleep most of the time.

As a person who is perpetually busy, I seem to get a kick vicariously out of these little independent movies and books about characters taking time off to regroup. Half the fun of “About a Boy” for me was imagining what it would be like to be an independently wealthy unemployed single man.

If I was, I'm sure I would watch movies about family men working important jobs. I like to watch movies like “Ghost World” and “The Skeleton Twins” and “The Station Agent” for the same reason. Christine finds many of these boring.

I rolled my eyes several times reading it, but I did continue. The genre isn’t the important thing with a book, really. It’s the quality of the writing. Some authors just have this prose you have to keep reading. Moshfegh is like that. Her book is available at the Rockland Public Library.

There is an idea to the story that many stories seem to have, that you have to do this one big, crazy, dangerous thing and somehow when you come through it you’re okay. I don’t know if that really applies to life as much as it does to stories. I’m of the opinion that the best lives are in some ways the most boring. Watching the Titanic sink or a tornado approach is interesting, but how happy are you when you see them?

The book does have this 2001 thing, and I kind of wish it didn't. I would delete the last chapter entirely. It’s not needed, not really relevant.

When it comes to fiction, Sept. 11 is like a black hole. It’s like that scene in Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” where they stop to look out the window at ground zero. It brings the movie to a halt, but what’s the point? Writers are attracted, as if by gravitational force, come to the edge and look down, but see only darkness.

Here in 2020, something I doubt the author predicted when she was writing this, we find ourselves in a season of forced indoorsy-ness. I suppose some could use this as their year of rest and relaxation, though it has also been one of sorrow for many families.

Hopefully for most, the end result will be emerging refreshed and renewed, ready to work.

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