Jenny Offill’s new novel DEPT. OF SPECULATION is a true portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.
The novel’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.
With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation can be read in a single sitting, but there are enough bracing emotional insights in these pages to fill a much longer novel.
Advance Praise for Dept. of Speculation:
“Clever, subtle, and rife with strokes of beauty, this book is both readable in a single sitting and far ranging in the emotions it raises…Offill has equal parts cleverness and erudition, but it’s her language and eye for detail that make this a must-read.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Exquisitely honed and vibrant…The reader easily identifies with [the narrator’s] struggles and frustrations…An enlightened choice for a reading group.”—Library Journal
“Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I’ve read before. If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1896, will you please simply believe me, and read it?”—Michael Cunningham
“Dept. of Speculation is gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways.“—Sam Lipsyte
“A heartbreaking and exceptional book by a writer who doesn’t settle for less—I’ve been longing for a new novel from Jenny Offill since her stunning Last Things, and it was worth every bit of the wait. Sad, funny, philosophical, at once deeply poetic and deeply engaging, this is a brilliant, soulful elegy to the hardships and joys of married life.”—Lydia Millet
“Dept. of Speculation is a deep, funny, and beautifully written novel. It is a moving and intelligent story of a specific marriage, but it is also very much about how it feels to be alive right now. Jenny Offill perfectly captures the absurdities and ironies of our moment.”—Dana Spiotta