Book Review: Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill's short but incredibly powerful second novel, Dept. of Speculation, is the story of a woman, the Wife, and a man, the Husband, and their daughter. Told in a series of crisp vignettes, the staccato of the story reads like a journal, or maybe a confession, or a memoir, though the tales do not always follow chronologically.

Much like Pam Houston's stunning story collection, Contents May Have Shifted, Offill's short chapters are somewhat related, though non-linear, each packed with standalone emotions that combine to tell the story of a disappointed, outraged, anguished, but still-fighting woman who has seen her dreams drift past her in favor of the life she has chosen--or submitted to. It's sometimes hard to say which, but isn't that always the case?

Whatever more I try to write will inevitably not do the book justice, so suffice it to say:

I highlighted well over 50% of the words on these pages.

I re-read well over 50% of the pages in this book.

I laughed. I stopped. I pondered. I didn't quite cry, but I considered it.

I tried to think of something coherent to say about how much I loved this, but I (obviously) didn't come up with much.

So instead, let me just say this: Read this. 

Read this if you have ever had a vision of your future and found yourself barreling away from it at a speed you cannot even begin to fathom. Read this if you are married, or if you are thinking about being married, or you might one day be married, or you think that people who get married are foolish. Read this if you've ever found yourself becoming someone you used to mock.

If you have fallen into, or out of love. If you have, or might have, or will never have children.

Just make sure that when you do read it, as short as it is, you give yourself plenty of time for the thinking and the reflecting. And keep a pen nearby for all the inevitable underlining.


Dept. of Speculation | Jenny Offill | Knopf | Hardcover | January 2014 | 174 pages | Buy from a bookstore near you


  1. Wonderful review of this one! You managed to capture it so much better than I did.

  2. So much agreement on so many things! I went back to look I what I had highlighted as I was writing my review and ended up re-reading almost the whole thing again. It's irresistible.

  3. My blog feed was clogged with rave reviews of this book yesterday. You, Shannon, Andi, and Kelly (of Read Lately) all loved it. That is probably a sign I should read it.


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