looking up at a tall bookshelf with old books

I recently discovered a very cool chain of restaurants that are also bookstores in Washington, D.C. While in the city for another reason, I popped into one of the locations to check it out. As promised, the entrance of the restaurant was a little bookshop!

Delighted, I began to scan the book titles, pick out a few of them, and flip through the pages. However, this seemingly simple task was not very simple in regard to all of the books in the little lobby area. The fiction was arranged on a tall and thin bookshelf, and the top two shelves were beyond my reach. No ladder was in sight. As a writer of fiction with a last name beginning with A, I felt empathetic toward those poor beginning-of-the-alphabet authors whose books were languishing up there.

I could have taken the hard route. I could have tracked down an employee and requested access. But I was just browsing, not requesting a particular book. I didn’t want to ask an employee to bring me down all of them, or even some of them, only to promptly ask for them to be put back, or (worse) buy them out of guilt.

So I took the easy route. I browsed through only the middle- and end-of-the-alphabet authors’ books, ultimately buying the novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.

This is a book about taking the easy route.

The protagonist, in response to distressing experiences and events both relatively recent and long ago, decides to gift herself what she calls her “year of rest and relaxation.” Her idea of rest and relaxation is taking enough psychotropic drugs to sleep away as many hours of her life as possible. She has the resources to do this, due to both an inheritance and, as the book jacket puts it, “one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature.”

This is a very funny book. The protagonist’s perspective and ideas are so wild that they shocked me into laughter many times. Other times, they shocked me into sadness as I had realizations about the nature of upsetting experiences, the long fallout of inadequate support during childhood, and how people cope in less-than-ideal circumstances. I was never sure whether to admire the protagonist’s resilience, or recoil from her careless and flippant attitude toward herself and others.

Sometimes, the author seems to be saying, we protect ourselves from the difficulties of the hard route . . . by working very hard to take the easy route. But it’s interesting that the protagonist sets a limit on the easy route. She commits to transitioning back to the hard route after one year. She seems to intuitively know that she needs to escape into sleep for a very long time . . . but not forever. I’ll let you read the book to learn how the plan works out for her. (It’s a page-turner, from start to finish!)

Are you taking the easy route in some aspect of your life? Do you have plans to transition to the hard route?