Dept. of Speculation

Jenny Offill, Author
Jenny Offill. Knopf, $22.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-385-35081-5
Reviewed on: 11/25/2013
Release date: 01/28/2014
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-306-30007-0
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-62923-188-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-62923-187-7
Compact Disc - 978-1-62923-183-9
Paperback - 179 pages - 978-0-345-80687-1
Open Ebook - 192 pages - 978-0-385-35102-7
Hardcover - 179 pages - 978-1-84708-873-4
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Popping prose and touching vignettes of marriage and motherhood fill Offill’s (Last Things) slim second book of fiction. Clever, subtle, and rife with strokes of beauty, this book is both readable in a single sitting and far ranging in the emotions it raises. The 46 short chapters are told mostly in brief fragments and fly through the life of the nameless heroine. Her mind wanders from everyday tasks and struggles, the beginnings of her marriage, the highs and lows with her husband, the joys of having a daughter. These domestic bits are contrasted by far-flung thoughts that whirl in every direction, from space aviation and sea exploration to ancient philosophy and Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics. Anecdotes and quotes also come from all over: Einstein, Eliot, Keats, Rilke, Wittgenstein, Darwin, and Carl Sagan. Often, the use of third person places the heroine at a distance, examining the macro-reality of her life, but then Offill will zoom in, giving the reader a view into her heroine’s inner life—notes, graded papers and corrected manuscripts, monologues, imagined Christmas cards and questionnaires. Offill has equal parts cleverness and erudition, but it’s her language and eye for detail that make this a must-read: “Just after she turns five my daughter starts making confessions to me. It seems she is noticing her thoughts as thoughts for the first time and wants absolution.... I thought of stepping on her foot, but I didn’t. I tried to make her a little bit jealous. I pretended to be mad at him. ‘Everybody has bad thoughts,’ I tell her. ‘Just try not to act on them.’ ” (Jan.)
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