Dept. of Speculation – a refreshing spin on an exhausted topic

Dept. of Speculation
Jenny Offill

I wasn’t wild about Dept. of Speculation in the beginning, but I’d gone in with a closed mind. I was turned off by the structure and the storyline; crumbling marriages aren’t on my list of preferred topics and the heroine trying to “have it all” has been exhausted. The choppiness, snippets of speculation and flashes of memory, began to grow on me after a bit, and a few chapters in it felt entirely natural. This is all the creativity that’s left in “the wife.” She’s drained, her ambition coming in fragments  she can’t channel it anymore – she’s floating away. Heartbreaking!

There are lots of lofty literary quotes – I can see where the wife might come across as pretentious – but her sense of humor redeems her.  I found myself laughing out loud when she admitted her favorite part of yoga is the end, “when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for 10 minutes.”

The wife and the husband struggle with work, their daughter, bedbugs, infidelity, but at heart of the story is the sacrifice of ambition. Dreams of becoming an “art monster” are replaced by her attempts to domesticate herself: becoming a perfect mom, going to yoga, etc. The husband did the same, taking a “vaguely soul-crushing” job because it paid better. And wasn’t their creativity what united them in the first place?

This is a new take on what Offill herself admitted is an old story, and it left me feeling hopeful. Very nicely done.

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