Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fiction: The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Watching a marriage grind to its painful, soul-shattering conclusion should not hold moments of strong wit. Yet Jenny Offill’s shimmering second novel not only manages this, it elevates domestic fiction to its highest possible form.

Slender, tiny (fit it easily in your bag for your daily commute) The Dept. of Speculation (Knopf) is barely a novella in length, yet it packs an epic whallop. It does this by way of emotional miles covered as we follow our nameless narrator through the final days of an unsatisfying marriage and the reawakening of a woman who has been emotionally sleeping through the common catastrophes of contemporary relationships. “The wife’s” marriage is crumbling, her career is stalled, her baby has grown to take over a huge portion of her life. She is unsatisfied, stagnating and -- as it is for all of us -- every day just takes her closer to death.

Like Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Offill takes a topic -- and, truly, an angle -- that is so everyday and puts it under a narrative microscope that reveals what we hoped all along: there are stripes of extraordinary in all of us. And that which on the surface can appear humdrum, doesn’t need to be viewed through a kaleidoscope to have its full colors revealed.

This is Offill’s second novel. Her debut work, Last Things, was lauded, awarded and over 10 years ago. Let’s hope she doesn’t make us wait so long again. ◊

India Wilson is a writer and artist.

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