Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill

An affair threatens a marriage and much more

Somewhere in Brooklyn, an acerbic writer whose motivation sputters because of money pressures, a new baby and a bedbug infestation, realizes her loyal Midwestern husband might have fallen in love with another woman. The realization shocks her, threatening her comfortably bohemian lifestyle, the happiness of her child, and even her sanity. The author takes a hackneyed low stakes theme – adultery among the hipster classes, and uses highly lyrical paragraphs, pithy chunks of philosophy, a humorous perspective and a structure encompassing courtship, baby, affair, and reconciliation to build a surprisingly gripping novel.

This is an exquisite jewel of a book in which questions about ambition, love, family life and existence are explored. There is much wisdom, as well as a lot of very effective plotting and character development in 177 pages (tiny pages too with lots of white space). The novel is very funny and feels packed with interior jokes and themes that bounce off each other. The most impressive thing about this book is the lyrical prose, which begs rereading. The typical plot scaffolding is missing – the actual facts of the adultery are implied. Although I didn’t really emotionally understand the wife’s jealousy, I understood both parents' desire to keep their child free of pain. The husband, however, seemed like sort of a drip and I'm not sure I bought the happy "ending." 

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