Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226

As the novel’s title ironically suggests, getting and staying relaxed in contemporary America is increasingly an elusive goal. The female narrator/protagonist, under psychiatric care, enters a surreal environment that turns out to be anything but restful. Trying to keep at bay the demons that threaten to take her down, she retreats into what she believes will be the security of her own apartment, in self-described “hibernation.” Finding even the most mundane tasks beyond her ability, she stops performing as many of them as possible. Yet the year she begins this anti-quest is 2000, and the place is Manhattan, so the reader can see what she cannot: that 9/11 is just around the corner.

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One central theme that emerges is precisely the paradox that there are infinite contradictions between perception and reality, especially between relaxation and anxiety. Closely related is the confusing path that individuals must tread as they try to navigate a route through a society that values effort, ambition, and success over inner peace. How much effort, the author makes the reader ask, is too much, or too little? As the narrator speaks of transformation, hiding behind a closed door, and unresponsiveness to outside stimulation, the reader is reminded of other literary transformations. Another running theme becomes literary allusion, both to characters and authors, notably Kafka’s Metamorphosis and J. D. Salinger’s hermit-like retreat.

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Characters