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Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation (2014)

by Jenny Offill

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1,3561109,486 (3.71)124
"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. "--… (more)

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» See also 124 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
David Markson meets Lorrie Moore meets Carl Sagan ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
an easy read—a book w a certain alluring momentum. prose style like this is like uhh james patterson fr ppl who read poetry n own yoga pants. —but how many times do i have 2 read this same story? i will fall down dead if u feed me another divorce tale. even the author seemed bored w it endlessly grabbing more interesting moments in history n literature n philosophy to collage over rote pain but lol i know better than to read books by writers who live in Brooklyn!!! how did this one slip in2 my pile??? ( )
  freakorlando | May 14, 2020 |
In wistful mode the female narrator of this novel charts some of the events of her life, her youthful romances, encountering the man who would become her husband, the birth of her daughter, and the rupture that draws her life forward through change. The narrator is a writer and teacher of writing and sometimes a ghost-writer. Already she has given up on her first goal in life, which was to become an art monster. Because of him. And because of her, meaning her daughter. Her husband is a musician, a composer of jingles for advertisements, and sometimes of songs for her and her daughter. But he’s also the source of the rupture. Which is unforgivable. Perhaps.

The writing comes in short bursts, as though snatched from the breeze. Or maybe it is the writing that conforms to the tiny moments of private thought afforded a young mother. It creates a kind of distance between the protagonist/narrator and her life. As though her life were being obliquely observed. That works well as we waft along in the first half of the novel, and doubly well when the rupture provokes more erratic thoughts and emotional excesses.

There is wit and charm here and a surfeit of deeper thought about life and art and the art of life from art monsters and philosophy monsters and poets. I enjoyed it immensely but feel as though I should read it again almost immediately so that none of it slips away unappreciated.

Highly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Apr 22, 2020 |
I had forgotten how great it is to read a book straight through in one sitting, to experience the book’s totality without interruptions and those fuzzy moments, when you are pushing yourself for just a few more pages before sleep takes your mind. Though this novel’s pages reveal a lot of white space—with wide margins and multiple segments on each its less than two hundred pages—this is one very remarkable book. The segments are most all short, with only a few lines, or up to half a page’s worth at most. Some are quite philosophical, posing thoughtful questions, and others seem to be quoting great thinkers of our times or earlier. Then there’s the storyline that appears here and there, telling of the book’s characters.
I found that the writing was best when not forced, as it felt wrong to concentrate too much on what was happening. That old line about letting something flow over you, came to mind. After reading many segments, I would find myself amused, intrigued, and always interested in where the author was taking me, how it all fit together. When a segment was too centered on telling the story (yes, there really is a storyline), it almost seemed too conventional. However, the sheer beauty of Offill’s writing is that she so cleverly varies the pace, the variety of what each segment was about, and attempting to show. Or, maybe she was just having as much fun putting so many different parts in play, because she knew that the most readers would love the feeling of her words flowing over them. There were so many small points of literary enlightenment and amusements in this book, that I could not resist smiling and laughing.
The story includes a philosopher (perfect for this story), a sister, and the female narrator who tells much about the man who becomes her lover, her husband, and the father of her child. Then, shall we say, their relationship evolved, but hell, I can’t tell you everything. Offill also cleverly plays with the point of view of the book. There are many of the things of life (friends, jobs, a kid, social events, and long sleepless nights) but don’t even start to think the style changes into any sort of a straight-ahead narrative … it’s exceedingly clever to the very end. The author is not only very clever in style, point of view, pacing, but she is a fine writer that wowed this reader.
This will be a fun book to reread, to see how a second wave of it flows over me. ( )
  jphamilton | Mar 11, 2020 |
This is the moving fictional memoir of a marriage. The author juxtaposes diary entries with tidbits from a wide range of writers and philosophers. The strength of this novel lies in the quality of the writing and the structure. They combine to leave the reader with the sense of having journeyed through a single couple's life together, with an honest view of what it takes for a marriage to last. ( )
  hemlokgang | Feb 25, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel about marriage, it might look something like this: a series of paragraphs, seldom exceeding more than a dozen lines, sometimes without much apparent connection to the text on either side.
added by sturlington | editKirkus Reviews (Nov 27, 2013)
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Speculators on the universe...
are no better than madmen.

For Dave
First words
Antelopes have 10x vision, you said.
But the smell of her hair. The way she clasped her hand around my fingers. This was like medicine. For once, I didn’t have to think. The animal was ascendant.
The Buddhists say there are 121 states of consciousness. Of these, only three involve misery or suffering. Most of us spend our time moving back and forth between these three.
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Average: (3.71)
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