Friday, January 31, 2014

“Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I’ve read before. If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1896, will you please simply believe me, and read it?” —Michael Cunningham
Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

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, 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 is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page.
Jackie says:
"I'm not quite sure what to say about this book.  I truly enjoyed it, and in fact, read it straight through in a day.  There are 46 chapters, but very little narrative.  We are given bursts of commentary that may be a sentence or a paragraph, but generally no more than that.  Yet I felt all sorts of emotions while reading this book.  At times I hated 'wife' and 'husband', at other times I wanted to cry for them, or laugh with them, or knock their heads together.  It's the story of a marriage, bare bone style.  It makes you think, and feel, and wonder.  To me, that makes it a fine book.  Step out of your usual reading zone and give this one a try."

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