Author(s): Jenny Offill
They used to send each other letters. The return address was always the same: Dept. of Speculation. They used to be young, brave, and giddy with hopes for their future. They got married, had a child, and skated through all the small calamities of family life. But then, slowly, quietly something changes. As the years rush by, fears creep in and doubts accumulate until finally their life as they know it cracks apart and they find themselves forced to reassess what they have lost, what is left, and what they want now. Written with the dazzling lucidity of poetry, Dept. of Speculation navigates the jagged edges of a modern marriage to tell a story that is darkly funny, surprising and wise.
This book, comprised of short paragraphs, observations, quotes and quips - poignant, skittish, acute or throwaway - contains a familiar domestic narrative, albeit one related at such speed (first uphill then down with the accelerator fully depressed) that it hardly adheres to the corners. The narrator, a writer and would-be ‘art monster’, unforeseeably marries and has a child (as tends frequently to happen to would-be art monsters), providing a husband and daughter to vie with writing for priority in her life. The narrator feels an ambivalence towards marriage and parenthood that she cannot fully acknowledge: love and frustration, joy and boredom - nothing seems quite to fit or satisfy, but then nothing ever seemed to fit or satisfy. We are given information about missions into space. Then, suddenly, in the midst of all this cherished but ill-fitting domesticity, the narrative switches from first to third person as the narrator’s agency is annulled by the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. The paragraphs become more cynical and bitter, the child falls out of the narrative (her absence from mention here being perhaps the most painful part of the book), the factoids concern lost arctic explorers, we are treated to bursts of (somewhat ironic) Rilkean ecstatic misery. The wife visits one of her writing students who has bandaged wrists, contemplates admission to a hospital, decides upon forcing a family relocation to the country. Only in the very last paragraph of the book is the first person narration regained, so subtly it almost isn’t noticed, intimating the possibility that something here is worth reclaiming, that something here could be rebuilt. - Thomas
The long-awaited new novel from an LA Times First Fiction Prize finalist, Dept. of Speculation is an annihilating, electrifying account of marriage and motherhood, love and madness
Short-listed for the FOLIO PRIZE, 2015.
JENNY OFFILL is the author of Last Things (Bloomsbury, 1999) which was chosen as notable or best book of the year by the Guardian, the New York Times, the Village Voice, and was a finalist for the LA Times First Fiction Prize. She teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University, and is on the faculty at Brooklyn College and Queens University of Charlotte.