Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill


I finished this book yesterday and I am already beginning to forget it. It wasn’t terrible, but it left no meaningful impression on me whatsoever.

Dept. of Speculation is told from the perspective of The Wife as her marriage with The Husband quietly implodes around her.

Maybe it’s because I am neither a writer or a parent, but I find the particular melodrama of being an unsuccessful writer with stalled ambitions and the trials of being a parent mostly boring to read about. Both The Husband and The Wife appear to be middle-class and living in Brooklyn. They have bedbugs and a colicky baby. I just didn’t feel like either of these characters or any of their problems were particularly tragic or interesting.

Even The Husband’s affair, which should be one of the high dramatic moments, is treated with such banality that it left me feeling utterly disinterested. Because the narrative glosses over the courtship between the two characters, and focuses only on their breakup, I never felt connected to either of them. When The Husband cheats on The Wife I don’t really feel for her because I don’t know anything about her.

Offill is a good writer. I liked some of the more lighthearted moments and the rare flashes of humor. But the subject matter here is so hackneyed and banal that I didn’t care about lives of these unnamed characters. I would have liked to see the author’s considerable talents applied to a more original, or at least compelling, subject matter.


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