When asked about her favorite holiday, writer Ottessa Moshfegh says, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on holiday…?” And then laughs.

On the one hand, I suppose she could be speaking literally. But I take the above response as an invitation: Do human beings ever really relax? After all, we never catch a break from the predominant source of our exhaustion: us.

All of this points to the central conflict in Moshfegh’s haunting (and darkly funny) new book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which reviewers have called “the finest existential novel not written by a French author.” (It’s already been optioned for a film, despite only being released this week.) The book’s epigraph demonstrates its underlying anthropology:

If you’re smart or rich or lucky
Maybe you’ll beat the laws of man
But the inner laws of spirit
And the outer laws of nature
No man can
No, no man can…

“The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey,” Joni Mitchell

R&R tells the story of a 24-year-old Manhattanite who wants to hibernate for a year. To do so, she enlists the help of “the worst psychiatrist in the annals of literature” — Dr. Tuttle — who distributes prescription drugs like Halloween candy. And because Ambien, Rozerem, Ativan, Xanax, trazadone, lithium, Seroquel, Lunesta, and Valium aren’t enough, Dr. Tuttle offers up a more powerful (fictional) pill: Infermiterol. Over-indulging, the narrator begins blacking out for days at a time. Which is perfect, she thinks. The more sleep, the better.

On the surface, this narrator (unnamed) has everything a young woman could want. She’s “tall and thin and blond and pretty.” She survives on a substantial inheritance, is well-educated, and has the perfect entry-level job at an avant-garde art gallery—that is, until she gets bored of it and is fired for sleeping during work. Antagonized by the “inner laws of spirit,” the narrator believes she will eventually be killed—or kill herself—at the behest of an existential nag: a general uncertainty about the point of things, a lack of interest in life. Her decision to hibernate, she assures us, “was the opposite of suicide. My hibernation was self-preservational. I thought it was going to save my life.” Life, for this narrator, is intolerable. Off to bed she goes.

I can’t point to any one event that resulted in my decision to go into hibernation initially. I just wanted some downers to drown out my thoughts and judgments, since the constant barrage made it hard not to hate everyone and everything. I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me.

This narrator is brutally honest — emphasis on brutal. She hates her best friend, Reva, who, during the course of this novel, is the only person to check in on her. She thinks Reva is fake, greedy, and jealous. And she’s not wrong. The narrator, too, knows herself to be vain; she judges others harshly because she judges herself harshly. All this, she hopes to sleep off. She hopes, by the end of her year, she will emerge from her cocoon reborn, with a greater tolerance for her everyday experience: “If, when I woke up in June, life still wasn’t worth the trouble, I would end it.”

It’s about as dark as you can get. And also really funny. Ironically, what cradles Moshfegh’s deadly parable is her own suspense of judgment; she, the writer, accepts her characters right where they are. She doesn’t judge them. She never winks at the reader and suggests, “This narrator is a real piece of work, isn’t she?” Even though she is. Moshfegh allows this young woman to freely tell her story, in all its humor and horror. So I wouldn’t call this a satire. Earnestness is the foundation, the basis from which an unexpected tenderness arises. You see it in Reva’s unyielding (possibly codependent) “love” for the narrator. You also see it in the narrator’s genuine admission that she is not okay, that she wants something better.

Clearly Dr. Tuttle, the outlandish psychiatrist, represents the dark side of today’s pharmaceutical industry. But also, more generally, Dr. Tuttle gives voice to the ‘fix-it’ culture, of which we all partake. When someone shares a problem with us — dissatisfaction with work, trouble in a relationship — aren’t we so quick to suggest a solution? To think we have the answer. “Have you tried___? Maybe you should___?” Dr. Tuttle doesn’t listen to a word her client says. She constantly forgets the narrators’ parents have died. She’s preoccupied with her own paranoia. (She’s also hilarious.)

Towards the end of the novel, Dr. Tuttle admits that prescription drugs aren’t the only possible solution to the narrator’s debilitating angst:

“There are alternatives to medication, though they tend to have more disruptive side effects.”

“Like what?”

“Have you ever been in love?”

This slight exchange holds what I perceive to be the key to the book. Per usual, there’s a sense of humor—love: so simple, very Disney—but it’s true. Love is the antidote. It is more disruptive than pills, more enduring than judgment. Only love can ‘beat the inner laws of spirit.’

If I’m honest, a year of rest and relaxation sounds pretty good. Perhaps not to the extent that this narrator pursues it. But I’d like more sleep than I get. I’d like to wake up on Monday morning and feel rested. But of course the narrator’s capacity to embark on this journey is, in the first place, a gift of privilege. It’s not something many of us could possibly replicate, even if we wanted to. She is so rich that she has successfully extricated herself from any sort of social dependence and thus has no demands on her time. One reviewer said, “I wanted to take the narrator and put her to work in ‘the real world.’” Fair. This narrator is tired of everything in a way that no real person could afford to be. Because, eventually, we have to go to work. Eventually, when Monday comes around, we have stuff to do. But as the narrator says, “I was born into privilege, and I’m not going to squander it…I’m not a moron.”

I find this pugnacious self-assurance oddly inspiring. Because anyone who subscribes to the Christian message can say the exact same thing: we were born into privilege. Spiritually speaking, there is no greater inheritance than the grace of God, no greater wealth than the unmitigated favor of the divine; we do not, as the narrator says, have a God “stalking our souls,” pulling our strings, batting us around like dummies. Our God accepts us where we are, for who we are, without any precondition. Ours souls are safe. If that isn’t privilege, I don’t know what is.

This bizarre inheritance sets us free. Free: to do with this summer whatever we would like. To rest, to play, to work. To release the fear of what others may think of us; to hold onto it. To let go of the pressure to be perfect; to pull back the curtain on our daily performance. To kick back every once in a while. To just relax.

Wherever we are today, our safety in Christ is an extraordinary privilege.

Only a moron would squander it.