Offill’s unnamed heroine...is observant and literary minded, given to seeing the odd connections (or lack of connections) among the things that make up her day-to-day life and the more subterranean thoughts that jitter around in her head. She also has a lot in common with Joan Didion’s heroines... A genuinely moving story of love lost and perhaps, provisionally, recovered.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
[C]harts the course of a marriage through curious, often shimmering fragments of prose…Dept. of Speculation moves quickly, but it is also joyously demanding because you will want to keep trying to understand the why of each fragment and how it fits with the others…Offill is a smart writer with a canny sense of pacing; just when you want to abandon the fragmented puzzle pieces of the novel, she reveals a moment of breathtaking tenderness…Dept. of Speculation is especially engaging when it describes new motherhood—the stunned joy and loneliness and fatigue of it, the new orientation of the narrator's world around an impossibly small but demanding creature.
Roxane Gay - New York Times Book Review
Riveting.... Unsentimental.... Combines eclectic minutia with a laser-like narrative of a family on the edge of dissolution.... Paragraphs shatter, surreal details rise up and into the narrative.... A jewel of a book, a novel as funny, honest, and beguiling as any I have read.
Los Angeles Times
Hilarious, poignant.... So beautifully written that it begs multiple reads . . . Soul-bearing fiction at its best.... Dept. of Speculation doesn’t just resign itself to the disappointment of failed dreams that crop up in middle age. Instead, endurance to the end of a crisis generates wisdom, hope, and, perhaps, even art.
Marvelously huge in insight and honesty. Rich with humor, and deep with despair, Dept. of Speculation paints a masterful portrait of the nuts and the bolts and the warts and the silky splendor that defines commitment—the commitment to live in close quarters with other humans.... A quick, beautiful read that will draw out joy just as quickly as sadness, and may even cause one to pause and then wonder, and then to finally embrace both the misery and the magic of marriage.
New York Review of Books
Absorbing and highly readable.... Offill has successfully met the challenge she seems to have given herself: write only what needs to be written, and nothing more. No excess, no flab. And do it in a series of bulletins, fortune-cookie commentary, mordant observations, lyrical phrasing. And through these often disparate and disconnected means, tell the story of the fragile nature of anyone’s domestic life.... Intriguing, beautifully written, sly, and often profound.
Meg Wolitzer - NPR
Audacious.... Hilarious.... Dept. of Speculation reveals a raw marital reality that continues to be expunged from the pervasive narrative of marriage.... Offill moves quickly and poetically over deeply introspective questions about long-term partnerships, parenthood, and aging.... From deep within the interiors of a fictional marriage, Offill has crafted an account of matrimony and motherhood that breaks free of the all-too-limiting traditional stories of wives and mothers. There is a complexity to the central partnership; Offill folds cynicism into genuine moments of love. It may be difficult to truly know what happens between two people, but Offill gets alarmingly close.
Dept. of Speculation is a startling feat of storytelling—an intense and witty meditation on motherhood, infidelity, and identity, each line a dazzling, perfectly chiseled arrowhead aimed at your heart.
Offill somehow manages to pack the sprawling story of an ordinary marriage, both the good bits and the bad, into a small, poetic book. Rendered entirely in a series of staccato vignettes, Dept. of Speculation is told from the point of view of the bookish, funny wife.... Yes, there’s joylessness here, but there’s also real joy. (Grade: A-)
(Starred review.) Popping prose and touching vignettes of marriage and motherhood.... 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. The 46 short chapters are told mostly in brief fragments and fly through the life of the nameless heroine.
Offill's lean prose and the addition of astute quotations prevent the text from becoming just one more story of an infidelity. The author's debut, Last Things, was a Los Angeles Times First Book Award finalist, noted by the New York Times; here, her writing is exquisitely honed and vibrant. This would be an enlightened choice for a reading group. —Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH
A magnetic novel about a marriage of giddy bliss and stratospheric anxiety, bedrock alliance and wrenching tectonic shifts.... So precisely articulate that [Offill's] perfect, simple sentences vibrate like violin strings. And she is mordantly funny, a wry taxonomist of emotions and relationships.... She has sliced life thin enough for a microscope and magnified it until it fills the mind's eye and the heart.
Scenes from a marriage, sometimes lyrical, sometimes philosophically rich, sometimes just puzzling.... The fragmented story...is sometimes hard to follow, and at times, the writing...is precious.There are moments of literary experimentation worthy of Virginia Woolf here, but in the end, this reads more like notes for a novel than a novel itself.
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