The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George

★★★★☆ (4/5)

Another surreal read, Jen George’s “The Babysitter at Rest” is my fourth book from the Dorothy Project. This short collection of stories is bizarre to say the least – narrative threaded from streams-of-dream-like-state.

George’s characters assume the perversion of their world and play along the fantasies. A woman on the verge of adulthood is chastised by a Guide and coerced into self-improvement. Another woman is deathly sick, consecrated to a death bed, dedicated to her deep fantasies. A group of flat mates with no defined ages seek to log in their daily activities in order to prosper (or stay put). Yet another woman is ambitious for motherhood – a state she is perpetually stuck in without a resolution, all the while racking up immense debts. Another group of students seek to fulfil their artistic calling by pleasing a Teacher, only to realise the failures buried within them.

The dreamscapes are endless, deviant, strange. The female characters are defiant yet grovelling to male authority. The book can be quite unsettling at times (exaggerated sexuality) and reads like an incoherent, spastic collection. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Guidance/The Party

      • “However, partnership can result in laziness and weight gain. Loneliness does this too, so partnership is favored since loneliness appears as an objective rejection by the universe.”

Failure to proselytize about healthy foods, new exercise trends, trips abroad, and happiness age one rapidly. You must now claim to enjoy things, learn a lot, and know yourself—this will heavily influence others’ assessment of your objective beauty and worth.

      • “Though you may see the concept of connection in others, it’s only a projection of your longing. No one relies on anyone and you will begin to catch on; this can be liberating, though it may also cause pain and some regret at the realization that most people have always been focused on themselves and you had just failed to understand, not doing anything with yourself while others were busy building lives.
      • “Your need to feel elite by liking or not liking people is a flaw of character,” The Guide says in an almost familiar tone. “Your social anxiety is a mask for narcissism. Part of the transition is to understand that one person is basically the same as another.

Conceptual, archaic, symbiotic, worm-hole, and duff-sitting are popular modes by which to express the absurdity of—”

The Babysitter at Rest

      • Memory has proven to be useful for livening things up in the town—filling leaves in the trees, reading expressions on other people’s faces, seeing trash on the streets.
      • Here you must work. Jobs have titles, but duties are vague.

so if I paint something and then paint something else, I’m gaining experience in the category of painting, despite the absence of any stylistic progress, artistic vision, or knowledge of what I’m doing. The only classification that matters is time spent doing the thing; here god is a clock with memory, logging hours.

      • It’s unclear if there is just nothing to accomplish, or if there are endless things.
      • The thing about forever babies is that you know they will never get older, so you must treat them differently than other babies. You have to suppress your natural urges to point to your nose and say nose or teach them anything like language since they’ll never speak. You don’t say no or don’t do that to a forever baby because there is no lesson they can learn from it. No knowledge is retained.
      • I detect cynicism in the baby’s eyes and wonder if even when you’re a forever baby, cynicism develops over time, after hours logged watching people and seeing the things they do.
      • I’m pretty sure I was supposed to have a birthday, but it has not come. It was supposed to be some time ago, but some time has passed and I definitely did not have a birthday.

Take Care of Me Forever

      • My life was never almost something, which is possibly better than almost being something where dying is concerned.

I’ve never been able to recreate the right color with my paint.

      • If I am honest with myself, I don’t know what I did with all or any of my days.

Over the hospital’s loudspeakers they play the recording of a hurricane that’s recently been released as an album and is number one on the charts. Static. Wind. No voices.

      • They’d all like to know where each other has been. No one knows. They cannot believe their eyes at seeing each other after long absences, during which time they forgot one another’s existence. They did not expect to see each other at dinner in this hotel.

Futures in Child Rearing

      • You Have Reached Your Destination is a strong name. He will not be lost. He will feel at home in the world. His arrival and presence has always been.

Instruction

      • We are to leave memory behind, we are to abandon sentimentality, we are to understand that the construct of the individual does not exist, that greatness exists only outside the self
      • It’s hailed by The Teacher/older man with large hands as “sexy as hell while being totally amateur and bad.” I’ll admit that the praise went straight to my head.

There is no danger of omnipotent consumption. It is bodily rather than celestial. It is loving. There is something violent about it

      • Permission is mistaken for talent where it is only limited potential, devoid of meaning and action

Talent has become a monetized luxury, the spices and gold of the contemporary epoch

      • The people without the privilege to self-appoint or self-proclaim are angry, seething, are quiet in their anger. They birth resentment, disappointment, they turn the world dark, fulfill their destiny as nothing—coming from nothing, dying as nothing
      • Everyone was kind of disgusted with each other after six months of hard labor and excessive after-hours orgies in the name of art or experience or youth or the moment, and there was a general sense of disappointment among all of us regarding personal artistic progress after The Teacher had failed to take an interest in anyone but Lee over the course of the program
      • Everyone started leaving the city because suddenly the coolest thing was to be a complete fuck up and throw everything away. People scattered to their hometowns or to the middle of nowhere trying to be no one
      • I could never lose myself in it—I was hyper-aware of my elite education and all the thoughts that went through my head were just about how different I was from everyone else

In a way, I think The Teacher accepted me into The Warehouse because he hated my work and wanted to see why I made it, or how bad it could get. I don’t blame his curiosity, but I wanted to please him, which was impossible, which nearly destroyed me. I’m surprised I kept trying. You get over it eventually, but it takes a long time, and you’re not the same after

      • I loved you in many ways, just not entirely. I tried

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