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Dept. of Speculation (2014)

by Jenny Offill

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,5531238,469 (3.71)128
"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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English (119)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  All languages (122)
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
Told through snippets that don't always have a distinct connection, this book is a short narrative of a young writer, mother and her marriage. I usually like this sort of storytelling. But with this one, the snippets are SO short and sometimes SO disconnected, that it is tougher for me to connect with this book. There were lovely moments and Offill can definitely write some mean, succinct snippets! But with a longer book and longer snippets, it would have hit harder for me. Some other examples of novels told through the snippet form... (but honestly with longer snippets...at least half page long, so it makes better sense to me with better connections): 'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' by Ocean Vuong, 'A Line Made by Walking' by Sara Baume, and 'Goodbye, Vitamin' by Rachel Khong. If you like this one, give these three a try! Are you sick of the word "snippet" yet?
Book #110 of the Morning News Tournament of Books ( )
  booklove2 | Apr 5, 2021 |
A very quick read about a family and a marriage - a lot to think about in a short book. ( )
  ChetBowers | Mar 10, 2021 |
I didn't love this at first. It seemed a little off-hand, maybe a little cute, at times like something you'd read in a clever blog post, which is great for a blog post but not necessarily great for a book rumored to be one of the better reads of 2014. At about the halfway point, as things began to unravel, I liked it more. The book became not a series of rambly inconsequential musings but a document of suffering and coping, which I had an easier time taking seriously and figuring was worth my time.

Often enough, Offill says true things in ways that couldn't be said in a truer way. I don't know how much they'd resonate with the childless or the unmarried, though.

I'm glad I read it and really wish I could give out 3.5 stars, or maybe 3.7. It's not quite a 4 for me, but it's certainly more than a 3. I like a little more heft -- a word count maybe an order of magnitude greater -- in a book that plumbs the sort of stuff this book ultimately plumbs. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
sad and beautifully written ( )
  nsol | Dec 21, 2020 |
As with many, I read this in one sitting and experienced a variety of responsive emotions to the author & the work (as opposed to the story/characters)... annoyance, understanding, respect, and then, in the end, just a little bit of disappointment (thus 4, rather than 5 stars). I have lots of unformed thoughts at this point, so I'll postpone any more review.... ( )
  avanders | Nov 23, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
Offill’s brief book eschews obvious grandeur. It does not broadcast its accomplishments for the cosmos but tracks the personal and domestic and local, a harrowed inner space. It concentrates its mass acutely, pressing down with exquisite and painful precision, like a pencil tip on the white of the nail.
added by Lemeritus | editThe New Yorker, James Wood (Mar 24, 2014)
 
Dept. of Speculation is a riposte to the notion that domestic fiction is humdrum and unambitious. From the point of view of an unnamed American woman, it gives us the hurrahs and boos of daily life, of marriage and of parenthood, with exceptional originality, intensity and sweetness.... Dept. of Speculation is 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.
added by Lemeritus | editThe Guardian, John Self (Mar 14, 2014)
 
Offill is a smart writer with a canny sense of pacing; just when you want to abandon the fragmented puzzle pieces of the novel, she reveals a moment of breathtaking tenderness ... especially engaging when it describes new motherhood ... For better or worse, this is not so much a book about their marriage; it is a book about the wife’s marriage. It would be interesting to read the other story to this marriage, to know more of the husband, the father — but Offill still makes it seem as if the wife’s version of the marriage is story enough and, perhaps, the only story that matters.
added by Lemeritus | editNew York Times, Roxane Gay (Feb 7, 2014)
 
From deep within the interiors of a fictional marriage, Offill has crafted an account of matrimony and motherhood that breaks free of the all-too-limiting traditional stories of wives and mothers. There is complexity to the central partnership; Offill folds cynicism into genuine moments of love. It may be difficult to truly know what happens between two people, but Offill gets alarmingly close.
added by Lemeritus | editThe Atlantic, Koa Beck (Jan 29, 2014)
 
Jenny Offill's novel Dept. of Speculation, which weighs in at 192 pages soaking wet and includes a fair amount of white space, is extremely short for a novel. It's an unusual book not only in terms of its size, but also its form. Make no mistake, this is an experimental novel. By which I mean that the narrative isn't a series of flowing scenes that keep you reassuringly grounded in plot, but a collection of vignettes, observations and quirky details that are sometimes pulled from real life.... Offill has successfully met the challenge she seems to have given herself: write only what needs to be written, and nothing more. No excess, no flab. And do it in a series of bulletins, fortune-cookie commentary, mordant observations, lyrical phrasing. And through these often disparate and disconnected means, tell the story of the fragile nature of anyone's domestic life.
 

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Epigraph
Speculators on the universe...
are no better than madmen.

Socrates
Dedication
For Dave
First words
Antelopes have 10x vision, you said.
Quotations
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.
Studies suggest that reading makes enormous demands on the neurological system. One psychiatric journal claimed that African tribes needed more sleep after being taught to read. The French were great believers in such theories. During World War II, the largest rations went to those engaged in arduous physical labor and those whose work involved reading and writing.
The reason to have a home is to keep certain people in and everyone else out. A home has a perimeter. But sometimes our perimeter was breached by neighbors, by Girl Scouts, by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I never liked to hear the doorbell ring. None of the people I liked ever turned up that way.
And that phrase—“sleeping like a baby.” Some blonde said it blithely on the subway the other day. I wanted to lie down next to her and scream for five hours in her ear.
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"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. "--

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