Jenny Offill’s sensational second novel Dept. of Speculation (Knopf 2014) is a centaur: a domestic drama about motherhood and infidelity packaged in the associative structure of an experimental novel, à la David Markson’s This Is Not a Novel. Delivered as a series of extremely brief vignettes, some connected to the novel’s plot, some obtaining it seems at random, Offill’s book tracks the narrator’s ambivalence about becoming a wife and mother, and her frustrations that her literary ambitions—she thinks of herself as a vexed “art monster”—have stalled out. What emerges is a sad, wry account of the narrator’s joys and tribulations and boredom, one that repurposes the formal pyrotechnics of postmodernism by imagining a literary enterprise that uses experiment as a means to character-driven fiction and genuine human feeling.
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation. Published by Knopf (2014). 179 pages.
About the Author: Gregory Brown
Gregory Brown, Reviews Editor, hails from Vancouver Island, in beautiful British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro MFA program for Fiction and Memorial University of Newfoundland's Master of Arts program in English Literature. He is the recipient of the Roy Daniels Memorial Essay Prize and his fiction and criticism have appeared in Postcript and Paragon.