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Dept. of Speculation
Indie Next ListFebruary 2014
I found myself gasping at the sheer beauty and conciseness of Offill's sentences in this portrait of a marriage. Dept. of Speculation can be devoured quickly, or readers can linger in it over many sittings. Covering the topics of love, loneliness, grief, joy, fidelity, beauty, depression, mania, motherhood, and writing, the shifting points of view are subtle yet profound, and despite the darkness and sadness of the story, when I closed the book I was left more alert and attentive, and feeling more alive. Highly recommended! -- Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
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, 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 is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page.
About the Author
Jenny Offill is the author of the novel Last Things, which was chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times First Book Award. She teaches in the writing programs at Queens University, Brooklyn College, and Columbia University.
Praise for Dept. of Speculation…
“Shimmering. . . . Breathtaking. . . . Joyously demanding.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Slender, quietly smashing. . . . A book so radiant, so sparkling with sunlight and sorrow, that it almost makes a person gasp.” —The Boston Globe
“Powerful. . . . Exquisite. . . . A novel that’s wonderfully hard to encapsulate, because it faces in many directions at the same time, and glitters with different emotional colors.” —The New Yorker
“A startling feat of storytelling . . . Each line a dazzling, perfectly chiseled arrowhead aimed at your heart.” —Vanity Fair
“Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I’ve read before. If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1897, will you please simply believe me, and read it?” —Michael Cunningham
“You can read Jenny Offill’s new novel in about two hours. It’s short and funny and absorbing, an effortless-seeming downhill ride that picks up astonishing narrative speed as it goes.” —The New York Review of Books
“Gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways.” —Sam Lipsyte
“Introspective and resonant. . . . Offill uses her novel to explore the question of how to be an artist as well as a wife and mother, when these states can feel impossibly contradictory.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Absorbing and highly readable. . . . Intriguing, beautifully written, sly, and often profound.” —NPR
“Audacious . . . Hilarious . . . . An account of matrimony and motherhood that breaks free of the all-too-limiting traditional stories of wives and mothers. . . . It may be difficult to truly know what happens between two people, but Offill gets alarmingly close.” —The Atlantic
“Piercingly honest. . . . A series of wry vignettes that deepen movingly.” —Vogue
“Dept. of Speculation is a riposte to the notion that domestic fiction is humdrum and unambitious. . . . 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. . . . A book this sad shouldn't be so much fun to read. ” —The Guardian (London)
“Whip-smart, defying description, will bring your walls down around you.” —Flavorwire
“[A] mini marvel of a novel. . . . Unfolds in tart, tiny chapters suffused with pithy philosophical musings, scientific tidbits, and poetic sayings that collectively guide a brainy, beleaguered couple through the tricky emotional terrain of their once wondrous, now wobbly union.” —Elle