‘Embracing the Ups and Downs’: A Cultural Lens for Careerism

The victims of capitalism are (resoundingly, if our literature at all approximates reality) assholes.

Similarly, in the 2018 smash hit My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh’s unnamed narrator is so disgusted with modern existence that she — you guessed it — opts to rest and relax for an entire year via a medication-induced unconsciousness. For Moshfegh’s leading lady (speaking for a generation of disaffected young adults, perhaps), “good strong American sleep” is the only cure for ennui. More recently, in 2020’s Indelicacy, Amina Cain’s protagonist, Vitória, has more agency, though her exercise of it is a far cry from principled. In fact, she might be considered the inverse of Lizzie Bennett, who refused to marry for economic security. Indeed, rather than passive-aggressively dissecting her situation (like Megan) or burying her head in a psychological sandbox (like Moshfegh’s heroine), Vitória intentionally marries into money to buy herself freedom from employment. In that sense, at least, she attempts corrective action, though trading social classes is ultimately just trading one discontent for another.

These women are not the misanthropes encountered in contemporary American literary fiction — and this is true notwithstanding the fact that they’re experiencing an identical trauma: a disinclination to follow society’s prescription for functional adulthood.

Further, while the storylines of all of the aforementioned American protagonists included intimate relationships — Megan has a serious boyfriend; Moshfegh’s narrator has a best friend and an ex-boyfriend; Vitória has a friend and a husband — Tsumura’s and Murata’s landscapes were strikingly devoid of personal relationships. Tsumura’s protagonist has a mother, with whom she lives but does not interact, as well as various professional acquaintances that begin and end in their respective chapters. In short, like their American counterparts, these Japanese women are just barely “pulling off being a person” (to borrow Murata’s phrasing). And yet, instead of surliness and contempt, Tsumura and Murata imbue their characters with something like … pep. These protagonists remain, even inside their own minds (maybe especially inside their own minds) quirky and charming, and, well, likable. Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation felt like an exercise in masochism. Reading There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job was enjoyable. I wish there had been slightly more continuity between chapters, but my criticisms beyond that are minimal.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller

Wynter K Miller is an editor and writer in California. @wynterkm