Book Reviews

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

17402288[1]“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, 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.” ~Goodreads

Just under 180 pages, this Contemporary new novel from Jenny Offill leaves your head swimming with thoughts. Thoughts about getting older, parenting, marriage, dreams, sanity-all of the things that barrage your head throughout the day. It is written in a vignette style, something like a journal with random thoughts but all encompass one very important message for me: attention.

“The Zen master Ikkyu was once asked to write a distillation of the highest wisdom. He write only one word: Attention. The visitor was displeased. ‘Is that all?” So Ikkyu obliged him. Two words now. Attention. Attention.”

That part of the book hit all the buttons for me because I really believe that not giving attention to the people who matter most in your life result in break-ups. Break-ups with lovers, spouses, children and friends. While on a smart phone playing games while your child is reading aloud or talking to you; the lack of attention is what severs relationships. Of all kinds. Even something as simple as talking to the check-out person at a store. A disconnect.

This is very much a book club pick where readers can dissect the beautiful written prose that ponders the depth of Kafka, Keats and Rilke in relation to yoga pants, colicky babies, troubled marriages, dwindling dreams and losing oneself in it all. There were so many wonderful insights that will forever leave an impression. I felt that this book could have been so much longer but at the same time it made a strong point and ended when it should have. Don’t you just love it when books can make you look at the world, the people you love and yourself differently? It’s the best form of therapy.

Read more praise for this novel and learn more about Jenny Offill at her site here.

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