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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dept. of Speculation Is a Jagged Valentine

Posted by on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 12:33 PM

(I Suggested the Peter Mountford reading at Hugo House tonight, but you should also know that Jenny Offill is reading tonight at Elliott Bay Book Company at 7 pm. Both readings are free. I wish they weren't at the exact same time.)

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Jenny Offill's novel Dept. of Speculation (Knopf, $22.95) reads in some ways as a companion piece to last year's Kevin Sampsell novel This Is Between Us. While Sampsell told the story of a marriage through a man's perspective, Offill takes a woman's side. Of the two, Speculation is the better book, a jagged little valentine that fits in the palm of your hand and stares at you, accusingly.

Speculation's narrator, who refers to herself as "the wife," can't seem to be a willing participant in her marriage, because she's too busy observing everything to understand that her husband is slowly slipping away. She writes about her relationship with the distance and the condescension of a slightly disappointed zoologist. A writer in her free time, the wife comes up with ideas for "really American" fortune cookies:

Objects create happiness.

The animals are pleased to be of use.

Your cities will shine forever.

Death will not touch you.

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