I read Dept. of Speculation in one sitting, absolutely unable to put down Offill’s sparkling spare prose. If I hadn’t borrowed my copy from the library, I would have underlined basically the entire novel; Offill writes through a remarkably keen perspective. Dept. of Speculation is the kind of novel you want to sit and clutch for hours after finishing; its content will keep you thinking for days, and perhaps weeks, afterwards.
From the jacket:
Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of 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, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions- the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats to 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.
“But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.”
-Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation is a teeny book full of Big Thoughts about motherhood, marriage, and the issues that can arise from both. Like Sheila Heti’s Motherhood, Offill describes her narrator in a deeply personal light, writing about the relationship between wife and husband, mother and daughter in short, stream-like bursts. From a daughter’s perspective, I can say that Dept. of Speculation offers an honest look into marital drama and the arguments that entail, as well as the distinct bond present between mother and daughter. It’s an intriguingly honest character study, one that any reader could find a piece of themselves in.
Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is a short, thought-provoking novel. Given its length and stripped-back prose, one could easily devour it within a sitting. If you want to get lost in someone else’s mind for an afternoon, pick up Dept. of Speculation.
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