Ooof. This book is slight, but it packs a wallop. I felt like I was reading through someone’s diary. It was as if the diary was left open with a READ ME sign glowing in neon above, but it was still so personal that I had to keep sneaking furtive glances over my shoulder to make sure that the diary’s owner wouldn’t walk in to find me poring over her every thought and feeling. When our narrator “I secretly hope that I might be a genius. Why else can no amount of sleeping pills fell my brain? But in the morning my daughter asks me what a cloud is and I cannot say” I felt a quick stab of recognition and a worry that maybe someone raided and published my own diaries.
Offill’s prose is sharp and spare. Her pace is breathtakingly quick, and you will be shocked by how quickly you will devour a woman’s life. Dept. of Speculation charges through hopeful flirtations, unguarded declarations, crushing realizations and creations of both art and life. We follow our narrator (sometimes The Woman, sometimes The Wife) from announcements like “My plan was to never get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him” while filling herself with the power of a creative life in the city to realizations of “But now it seems 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” while joy ebbs and flows from her messy apartment, messy marriage, and messy life.
She- the Wife, the Woman, maybe Offill herself- manages to stay ahead of life’s creeping certainties, but not without wit, humor, and a bit of righteous anger.
“If he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won’t just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never fucking outrun entropy.”