Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

I recently read this engaging, beautiful, poetic book and was struck by how tender, sad, true, and real it was. It takes a few pages to “get” the style in which it is told; Offill offers fragmented statements, facts that seem to be random musings on the world, only to quickly emerge as parts of a whole. The words expressing the tenderness she feels towards her husband resonated with me deeply:

I bought a warmer coat with many ingenious pockets. You put your hands in all of them.

Hard to believe I used to think love was such a fragile business. Once when he was still young, I saw a bit of his scalp showing through his hair and I was afraid. But it was just a cowlick. Now sometimes it shows through for real, but I feel only tenderness. 

And of the overwhelming love and amusement she feels for her daughter:

Once when she was just learning to talk, I ran my hand across her face, naming every part of it. Later, when I put her in the crib, she called me back. First, she asked for water, then for milk, then for kisses. “It hurts. Don’t go.” she said. “What does? What hurts, sweetie?” She paused. “My eyelashes.” 

These paragraphs, sometimes sweet and tender, other times devastating, stand alone, separated by space and time, yet move us forward briskly as the story evolves.

These fragments unveil the complicated and sweet story of a courtship, marriage, parenthood, and all of the in-between. These pieces somehow work together to produce a book that is more a work of art than something we should be allowed to hold within our hands. It will stay with me always.

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  1. This is a lovely review. Quite compelling. (And OMG, you linked to the author’s page – that’s awesome. Thank you for your thoughtful content and curation here.)

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