That’s what I have to say about¬†Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill.

It’s the kind of book that you try to read slowly, because you want to savor it and make it last as long as possible. You want to sear the passages into your memory so that you can conjure them up later. It’s that good. It kind of snuck up on me – I wasn’t blown away by the first third or so, but by halfway I knew I was holding something pretty special in my hands.

Dept. of Speculation is a fresh, unique take on a pretty common theme: urban parenthood, marriage, adultery. There’s the wife – a writer who came to motherhood somewhat reluctantly but who loves her husband dearly. And there’s the husband, who is steadfast and loving, until he isn’t. (Neither of them are named.).

Dept. of Speculation is sort of a combination of prose and poetry. The paragraphs bounce around a little, from the deep to the mundane. But they weave together to form a beautiful, messy whole that painfully, accurately describes love, motherhood, writing, despair, therapy – all of it. One minute, I’d be laughing out loud at how Offill nailed some aspect of modern motherhood, and the next I’d be gasping at how well she described the acuity of the wife’s vulnerability and sadness.

There is a narrative shift halfway through the book that is significant but still works.

I am finding it hard to review Dept. of Speculation – I think it’s one that you have to experience to get a sense for what it’s about. Pp. 72-73 in particular will take your breath away. Or this line: “The only love that feels like love is the doomed kind. (Fun fact.)”

I could go on and on. Great book. Depressing-o-meter:¬†7. Though it’s more painful and insightful than depressing, really.


  • February 21, 2014 - 7:08 am | Permalink

    You’ve made me very curious about this book!

  • February 21, 2014 - 7:12 am | Permalink

    Thia sounds like one for my TBR list – fun. (love the quote -kinda true too)

  • February 21, 2014 - 2:19 pm | Permalink

    This book sounds fantastic and riveting. I love a book that can make you laugh out loud or want to cry because it means it really got to you. Your review is great too because it really piques my interest in this book. I’ll definitely be reading this at some point – sooner rather than latter hopefully!

    Thank you for an awesome review!

  • Liza
    February 22, 2014 - 1:13 am | Permalink

    Putting it in the Amazon cart now, thanks!

  • Tuvana
    February 28, 2014 - 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I just finished reading this book- what a gem. She captures the mundane and the ethereal and makes it look so easy. I thought I would have trouble with the stream of consciousness parts but it worked for me. I need to check out “Last Things” ASAP !

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