Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dept. of Speculation

Title:  Dept. of Speculation
Author:  Jenny Offill
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2014. 192 pages.
ISBN:  0385350813 / 978-0385350815

Book Source:  I found this book browsing in the local library.

Opening Sentence:  "Antelopes have 10x vision, you said."

Favorite Quote:  "Every marriage is jerry-rigged. Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string."

"They used to send each other letters. The return address was always the same:  Dept. of Speculation. All of the letters are still in their house; he has a box of them on his desk, as does she." Such is the explanation for the title of this book. The "they" is a husband and wife; this book is the story of their marriage. It's really more of a long short story or a really short novel. The narrator is "the wife;" no other name is given.

At the beginning of the relationship, the speculations are all positive. You are young and in love. Anything seems possible. Things seems even more possible when you are together. As life passes, it brings ups and downs - both in individual experiences and in a relationship. Jobs, a home, children, dreams of other things, the what-ifs....And what happens if you act on some of the what-ifs.

This is a very difficult book to describe because in some ways it is about nothing, and yet it is about everything. It's about real life, being married, and growing older. It provides no answers but poses questions many of us ponder. What is necessary for a marriage to survive? What would be our breaking point - the actions from which our trust in a partner could not survive? How does that change as we grow and age? "It seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be."

The writing style of the book is surprising as well. This book definitely feels like the intent is for it to be different. It tries hard to be different, and sometimes, that intent gets in the way of the story. However, for the most part, the books successfully conveys its message and creates characters that you care about. The fragmented style of the book provides glimpses that, taken together, form a life. Much like our own memories. The big moments leave lasting impressions, but the small, ordinary moments of life are the glue that hold it together.

The book has no names for any of the characters. At first, it's a challenge, but then the book settles into a lyrical rhythm. The narrator, aka the wife, includes with her story quotes, facts, and philosophy that add insights into this marriage. Perhaps, the lack of names reinforces the universality of experience. Even with the distance created by the lack of names, I find myself vested in the character and hoping for a happy outcome.

Mind you, I don't always agree with the wife's outlook or her choices. At times, I sympathize. At times, I want to tell her to grow up. At times, I shake my head and just wonder. However, the fact that I do so for a fictional character whose name I don't even know is a testament to the author's writing. The best thing I can say about this book is that it feels real.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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