The Changs live an inconspicuous life in Plano, Texas, Patty, the mother has a demanding job in the tech industry, Liang, the father looks more after the house and their two kids Jack and Annabel. Despite their Chinese background, they assimilate and fit in quite well until misunderstanding sets in motion a chain of events which throws the already fragile family equilibrium totally out of balance.
Simon Han’s novel “Nights When Nothing Happened” tackle different tricky topics such as moving to another country and trying to fit in, finding your identity when you grow up between different cultures, trying to make a living and having a family at the same time and, most of all, dealing with the fragile psyche of a child. Each chapter provides the reader with the perspective of another family member thus underlining that even though you might belong to the same family, there are always things left unsaid because they are unutterable or because you cannot find the words to express yourself, in the case of the children in the novel: because they are too afraid of saying or doing something wrong.
It wasn’t easy for me to sympathise with the characters, they were too far away from my life and unfortunately the novel, though wonderfully narrated, couldn’t bring them closer. Understanding their individual struggles and fears though was easy due to the insight in the characters’ thoughts. Many noteworthy aspects and without any doubt interesting characters, yet, somehow the novel did not really move me.
When the first student doesn’t wake up after a long party night, nobody is really scared, it’s just something that happens. But when more and more people in the small Southern Californian college town just fall sound asleep, fear starts to grow. What is happening in town? Is this an infection and what does the sleep do to the people? Students, professors, nurses, doctors, average people – they all can catch the mysterious virus which seems to cause wild dreams and a comatose state. Public life slowly comes to a standstill and the town is put under quarantine, it has become too dangerous to go there because nobody knows what kind of new biological threat they are dealing with. Who will win: the virus or the human race?
Sometimes there are books that you suddenly see everywhere and everybody seems to talk about them. When I first came across “The Dreamers”, I was convinced that this was nothing for me, I prefer realistic stories and nothing too fancy and out of the ordinary. But the hype about it rose my curiosity and thus, I wanted to know what is behind it all. Well, to sum it up: a notable novel which is skilfully written and got me hooked immediately.
What I appreciated especially were two things. First of all, the dramaturgy of the plot. The mysterious virus just infects students and then slowly spreads and the number of characters that we got to know is progressively affected and falls asleep. As the number of victims rises, the life in the small town is reduced more and more to a minimum. It is obvious that there must be some kind of final fight in which either side gains the upper hand and the other succumbs – yet, Karen Thompson Walker finds a different solution which I liked a lot since it perfectly mirrors life’s ambiguity.
The second aspect was even more impressive. I fell for the author’s laconic style of writing. It is down to earth, concise and everything but playfully metaphorical. It reflects the characters’ mood of having to survive under the extreme circumstances: Just go on, do what is necessary, keep your head high and make yourself useful. That’s just how it is, so what? No need to fantasize about an alternative world, we just have this situation and need to cope with it.
To sum it up: just like the sleep overcomes the characters, this novel could spellbind me.
Looking at her from the outside, she has everything one could wish for: she is blond, pretty, thin, a Columbia graduate, stylish without effort and she has a job at a gallery. Due to her inheritance, she can afford an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But that’s just one side of the medal, her relationship with Trevor has been all but healthy, her parents never showed any affection and thus losing them both when she was in college was a minor affair. What she is lacking is an aim in life, something that gives her a reason for being alive. She feels exhausted and just wants to sleep until everything is over. She slowly extends her time in bed, she even falls asleep at work and then, finally, she decides to hibernate. A crazy therapist provides her with medication that allows more and more hours of sleep at a time. She hopes that after a year of rest, she will awake as somebody new.
Ottessa Moshfegh is a US-American writer who earned a degree in Creative Writing from Brown University and whose short stories were received with positive reviews. After her novella “McGLue”, her first novel “Eileen” was published in 2015 and made it on the shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Having chosen a mostly unsympathetic protagonist for her former novel, I found it much easier so sympathise with her narrator in “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”.
The young woman who is portrayed is quite typical in a certain way. She is the modern New Yorker who takes part in the glittery art circus, is a part of a subculture of believes itself to be highly reflective and innovative. At a certain point, the superficiality becomes exhausting and the aimless tittle-tattle and prattle don’t provide any deeper insight.
“The art at Ducat was supposed to be subversive irreverent, shocking, but was all just canned counterculture crap, “punk, but with money”.
Also her relationship does not go beyond superficial sex and one-night-stands that lead to nothing. Added to this is the easy availability of all kinds of drugs, of therapists who themselves are too crazy to detect any serious illness in their clients and therefore just fill in any prescription they are asked for. Even though the plot starts in 2000, the characters are quite typical for the 1990s and they need a major event to wake them up and bring them back to real life.
The narrator tries to flee the world and takes more and more pills mixed with each other, as a result she is sleepwalking, even gets a new haircuts and orders masses of lingerie without knowing. Her radius is limited to her blog, her only human contacts are the Egyptians at the bodega at the corner where she buys coffee, the doorman of her apartment house and Reva, her best friend who still cares about her. Even though she is bothered by the things she does when she is not awake, she has become that addicted that she cannot let go anymore.
Even though the protagonist is highly depressive and seeing how badly she copes with her life is hard to endure in a way, the novel is also hilarious. I especially liked her meetings with her therapist since Dr. Tuttle is riotous in her eccentric ways and their dialogues are highly comical – despite the earnestness of their actual topics. Ottessa Moshfegh most certainly earns a place among to most relevant authors of today.