WEATHER by Jenny Offill

From the Jacket

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree.  But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink.  For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother.  They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal.  Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization.

As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls.  When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience—but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in—funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.

My Thoughts

Jenny Offill’s previous work, DEPT. OF SPECULATION (2014), made my favorites list last year, so I was thrilled for WEATHER, which came out last month.  I actually bought it on its release day, in hardcover and everything, which is a real treat for me!  Then, last week, WEATHER was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, my favorite literary award to follow along with, and I knew I had to pick it up immediately!

“Young person worry: What is nothing I do matters?  Old person worry: What is everything I do matters?”

What I love most about Offill’s work is the way she puts her reader directly into the head of her protagonist.  WEATHER, like DEPT. OF SPECULATION, is told in fragments, in disorganized bits and pieces that are arranged just like a natural thought process: that is, in no way at all.  Because WEATHER lacks that traditional narrative flow, I think it will prove to be a tricky, inaccessible read for many readers.  While I still loved Offill’s writing in this one, I think WEATHER lacked the sense of meaning and direction that DEPT. handled so beautiful.  In reading DEPT., I got a real sense of the main character’s situation and mindset, but with WEATHER, I felt like I was drifting through something meaningless and forgettable.

I read WEATHER in an absolute trance, fully immersed in Lizzie’s brain, but it’s been a week since I finished it and I’m finding it hard to remember.  If you’re interested in reading Offill, I’d absolutely recommend picking up DEPT. OF SPECULATION first, which I think does a much better job of telling a story without a traditional narrative format.  WEATHER, though it features Offill’s lucid, witty, and ultimately human prose, ended up being a big disappointment for me.

Further Reading

“Jenny Offill Wrote the Perfect Worry Novel” by Hillary Kelly, Vulture
“Jenny Offill’s ‘Weather’ is a Doomsday Novel We All Can Relate to” by Annabel Gutterman, TIME
“Jenny Offill’s ‘Weather’ is Emotional, Planetary, and Very Turbulent” by Leslie Jamison, The New York Times

6 Comments

  1. Gilana @ gilreadsbooks

    I was thrown off by the fragmented style when I first picked up DEPT., but now you’ve convinced me to give it another try before I read this. I’m sorry this didn’t turn out to be a better read—and you bought it as a treat at that! Here’s to hoping your next one will be better. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Literary Elephant

    Ah, sorry this one didn’t turn out quite as well as you’d hoped! I felt similarly, in that I enjoyed the prose and had a fine time reading it but found the story underwhelming and forgettable in the end. This does however make me more interested in trying Dept. of Speculation!

    Liked by 1 person

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