The devastations of Jenny Offill

OFFILL — Dept. of Speculation

There is nowhere to cry in this city, Jenny Offill writes. And also: But she is tired all the time now. She can feel how slowly she is walking, as if the air itself is something to be reckoned with. But, then, also: There’s that moment, you know, for most people, where you decide you want to wake up in the world one more day.

I don’t think I’ve been myself lately. Or, I think I’m very obviously changing into something that’s mostly like me, but different enough for me to wonder what that “myself” really is. I feel very liminal lately, very in-the-in-between. And I only very fleetingly, very distractedly worry about it. Which is unlike me—I’ll pick and prod and poke at an emotion until I can map out its very contours. I haven’t wanted to spend days upon days reading a book, I haven’t bent over my notebook in a while. I haven’t been taking to my usual quiet thoughts. In weeks—months?—I haven’t looked at a book and decided that the world can go burn, if only I could read it.

What books I have managed to read in the past two months, I do so with desperation.

Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation was one of those books. I’ve read this twice now, and I backread and reread several times even while I was reading it. It’s one of those small, clever books that can remind me why I like reading, why I like quiet, why I like being stolen over by a low chuckle out of nowhere. It’s the kind of small books that hurt, that scrape you raw, that remind you of things you thought no longer mattered to you. It jars you. It’s the kind of book, too, that needles you into returning to your notebook, if only to express your wish that you could attempt to catch lightning in a bottle. Or some such other idiom.




Offill: There is still crookedness in my heart. I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it. Offill: She remembers the first night she knew she loved him, the way the fear came rushing in. She laid her hand on his chest and listened to his heart. One day this too will stop, she thought. The no, no, no of it. Offill: She has wanted to sleep with other people, of course. One of two in particular. But the truth is she has good impulse control. That is why she isn’t dead. Also why she became a writer instead of a heroin addict. She thinks before she acts. Or more properly, she thinks instead of acts. A character flaw, not a virtue.

I need more books like this.


2 thoughts on “The devastations of Jenny Offill

  1. “. . . looked at a book and decided that the world can go burn, if only I could read it.”—an excellent standard! Right up there with the top of Emily Dickinson’s head by blown off when she reads a poem she likes.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s