Thursday, March 6, 2014


Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
****4 of 5 stars

Knopf Publishers
Release Date: January 1, 2014
Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 176
Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation can be read in a single sitting, but there are enough bracing emotional insights in these pages to fill a much longer novel.

The writing is so lyrical, so poetic. It's a compressed, quick read. For the relatively few amount of pages (175), it leaves a lot for you to think over--and parts that you'll revisit for the power and emotion behind the words. There is a unique tone throughout the book where sometimes you couldn't tell if she was being funny or serious; certainly she was being both. It's incredible, how easily and insightfully the exact feelings of a mother, wife, or person-in-general are explained. Although I felt a bit disconnected with her sometimes--maybe this was due sometimes to the randomness of thought and her perpetual grief over the event that takes up the whole last half of the book.

But after reading, you feel so aware of yourself and the people and world around you--observant, admiring. If I haven't convinced you on how much I loved this, here's a few bits to hold up as evidence:

Some women make it look so easy, the way they cast ambition off like an expensive coat that no longer fits. 

What Fitzgerald said: Once the phial was full--here is the bottle it came in. Hold on, there's a drop left there . . . No, it was just the way the light fell. 

We dance with the baby every night now, spinning her round and round the kitchen. Dizzying, this happiness. 

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