Tag Archives: jenny offill

WEATHER by Jenny Offill

These are trying times for parents of young kids. How do you focus on the minutiae of child rearing when there are so many really big things to worry about? That’s the subject of Jenny Offill’s new novel, Weather. I loved her last book, Dept. of Speculation, which documented a failing marriage through short paragraphs and wry observations that verged on poetry. Weather is written in a similar style. Once again told from the point of view of a young mother, Weather takes on Trump’s America and the heightened anxiety we now live with.

Lizzie, once a graduate student full of promise, now works as a librarian at a university, with a side gig of helping a former professor answer emails about her doomsday podcast. Lizzie’s brother, an addict, is a constant worry to her as well, even after he marries and has a baby. She and her husband live in Brooklyn with their young son. Not a lot actually happens in the book – this is not for people who like plot-driven novels – but like Dept. of Speculation, Weather is full of breathtaking insight, wit and honesty. Lizzie’s mind ping pongs among the mundane and the philosophical, the personal and the universal, exploring the challenge of how to balance macro fears like climate change and impending disaster with modern life and its daily banalities.

I love, love, love Jenny Offill. I dogeared so many pages of Weather – there’s a gem of brilliance on almost every page. I often laughed – or grimaced – in recognition, and I read slowly so as to savor the experience. And if I didn’t have a bazillion other books to read, I’d probably start this one over again today.

It was a long wait for another Jenny Offill book, but it was worth it. (Actually, this doesn’t come out for another month – sorry – but you can pre-order now!)

Weather was Book #1 of 2020 and counts in the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge as a Book By An Author I Love.

DEPT. OF SPECULATION by Jenny Offill

Wow.

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.

MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell

First, apologies for the long delay in posting. I was on the West Coast for work this week, which put a damper on my blogging schedule. I am back, with no travel for the forseeable future, so hopefully the EDIWTB posts will be more frequent!

I am breaking with tradition today with a rare foray into non-fiction: Money Changes Everything: Twenty-two Writers Tackle the Last Taboo With Tales of Sudden Windfalls, Staggering Debts, and Other Surprising Turns of Fortune, edited by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell. 

MonehyFrom More magazine: “Here, 22 brave essayists bare truths about themselves and money. From Park Avenue to Appalachia, from a jail in Illinois to a suburb in Pennsylvania, from childhood and well into later life, money (or the lack of it) shames, frightens, burdens, delights and divides people (even one grieving relative from another and, of course, husband and wife).  Reading this book may relieve you of a secret embarassment or shine a light on some psychological barriers you want to take down.”

I am intrigued by this book because, as an adult in her 30s, I find that money has become an increasingly taboo subject among people I know.  No one really talks about how much they have, how they spend it, how they make decisions about it, or whether they’re worried about it.  The title says it all: money really is “the last taboo.”  It seems people are more comfortable talking about sex, health, or family dysfunction than money.  So a glimpse into how 22 people’s lives have been affected by money sounds pretty interesting to me.

Oddly, I can’t find any other reviews of this book, but here are two notes:

1) The editors have another book out that I have wanted to read called The Friend Who Got Away, a collection of essays about ruined friendships.

2) If you’re interested in topic of how money affects friendships, here is an article from May from The New York Times Sunday Styles section (subscription may be required) that shares its headline with the book’s title (but doesn’t mention the book).