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Dept. of Speculation (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – October 7, 2014
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This is a magnetic novel about a marriage of giddy bliss and stratospheric anxiety, bedrock alliance and wrenching tectonic shifts. Offill, author of the novel Last Things (1999) and various children’s books, covers this shifting terrain and its stormy weather in an exquisitely fine-tuned, journal-like account narrated by “the wife,” an ironic self-designation rooted in her growing fears about her marital state. She is smart if a bit drifty, imaginative and selectively observant, and so precisely articulate that her perfect, simple sentences vibrate like violin strings. And she is mordantly funny, a wry taxonomist of emotions and relationships. Her dispatches from the fog of new motherhood are hilarious and subversive. Her cynical pursuit of self-improvement is painfully accurate. Her Richter-scale analysis of the aftershocks of infidelity is gripping. Nothing depicted in this portrait of a family in quiet disarray is unfamiliar in life or in literature, and that is the artistic magic of Offill’s stunning performance. She has sliced life thin enough for a microscope slide and magnified it until it fills the mind’s eye and the heart. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Shimmering. . . . Breathtaking. . . . Joyously demanding.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Slender, quietly smashing. . . . A book so radiant, so sparkling with sunlight and sorrow, that it almost makes a person gasp.” —The Boston Globe
“Powerful. . . . Exquisite. . . . A novel that’s wonderfully hard to encapsulate, because it faces in many directions at the same time, and glitters with different emotional colors.” —The New Yorker
“A startling feat of storytelling . . . Each line a dazzling, perfectly chiseled arrowhead aimed at your heart.” —Vanity Fair
“Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I’ve read before. If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1897, will you please simply believe me, and read it?” —Michael Cunningham
“You can read Jenny Offill’s new novel in about two hours. It’s short and funny and absorbing, an effortless-seeming downhill ride that picks up astonishing narrative speed as it goes.” —The New York Review of Books
“Gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways.” —Sam Lipsyte
“Introspective and resonant. . . . Offill uses her novel to explore the question of how to be an artist as well as a wife and mother, when these states can feel impossibly contradictory.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Absorbing and highly readable. . . . Intriguing, beautifully written, sly, and often profound.” —NPR
“Audacious . . . Hilarious . . . . An account of matrimony and motherhood that breaks free of the all-too-limiting traditional stories of wives and mothers. . . . It may be difficult to truly know what happens between two people, but Offill gets alarmingly close.” —The Atlantic
“Piercingly honest. . . . A series of wry vignettes that deepen movingly.” —Vogue
“Dept. of Speculation is a riposte to the notion that domestic fiction is humdrum and unambitious. . . . A shattered novel that stabs and sparkles at the same time. It is the kind of book that you will be quoting over and over to friends who don’t quite understand, until they give in and read it too. . . . A book this sad shouldn't be so much fun to read. ” —The Guardian (London)
“Whip-smart, defying description, will bring your walls down around you.” —Flavorwire
“[A] mini marvel of a novel. . . . Unfolds in tart, tiny chapters suffused with pithy philosophical musings, scientific tidbits, and poetic sayings that collectively guide a brainy, beleaguered couple through the tricky emotional terrain of their once wondrous, now wobbly union.” —Elle
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What we know a woman is narrating the book, as we read along,we can start to see this woman and the man she meets in our mind's eye. We observe the places and people she talks about. The man and woman meet, no names are ever mentioned, they marry, purchase a home, have a child, and go through their days as a couple with a child. The child takes all the wife's time, she cries a lot, but stops crying when brought to the pharmacy store down the street. The child grows, the marriage grows, upsets in the marriage, as life moves on.
The wife plans a party, the child is excited, the people come, the child mingles for a bit, and then says "party over, go home". This is their life, the woman, the man the child. This is a simple story, no excess, each word has meaning in its placement. I was sad when the book ended, 'Is that all there is?'
Recommended. prisrob 10-12-16
In addition to enjoying its good and lyric prose, readers of this book will be regarded with a few powerful insights. Here is a short list: (i) yuppie comfort is precarious, (ii) poetry can be the best kind of self-help literature: "Let all flowers whither like a party", (iii) adultery is often more dramatic in real life than in fiction, (iv) unhappy families are all alike after all: "If I had to sum up what he did to me, I'd say it was this: he made me sing along all the bad songs on the radio", and (v) the "Little Theater of Hurt Feelings" is sad in a double sense: the script is trite and all the actors (the wife, the husband, the girl,...) overact.
Read this book. It's a great novel about marriage and adultery among overeducated Americans. It can also be a good (and cheap) form of therapy.
I think that the way it's written, with it's short chapters, makes the pace of the book, perfect. We go from meeting, to marriage, to child, to affair, at such a quick pace. It's one of those books that keeps you thinking "hmm" even after you're done reading.