Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on January 28th 2014
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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.
I found this book to be extremely enjoyable. It’s compact, but that doesn’t stop Offill from filling the pages with sentiments and themes that could (and have) fill untold volumes. The brevity of this book is perhaps the most remarkable part of it. Offill’s prose is effective and interesting – I’d like to re-read this book in a few months because I know that there must have been deep and important things that I have missed. This little novella almost feels like poetry in the sense that every word Offill used was packed with meaning and every word was necessary.
What stops this book from being truly extraordinary for me might be chalked up to my own deficiencies as a reader. I should have read this book in a single sitting, but I didn’t. It actually took me three sittings. Perhaps because of this, despite the short chapters, I found myself a little lost. There are a lot of pronouns used and very few proper names. If it’s not a pronoun then it’s a descriptive name, like ‘the almost astronaut’. Because of this, I there were times that I had difficulty trying to figure out who she was talking about and what exactly was going on. (Side note: this is how I sometimes speak of people in real life. When talking to my husband about blogging I’ll often start with, “The book bloggers say…”) I think that a closer reading on my part may solve that issue.
What about you, Reader? Have you read a novella or short story lately that has moved you?