Thursday, February 13, 2020

Weather by Jenny Offill: A review

I had been looking forward to the publication of this book since I first read about it a few weeks ago. I had preordered it on my Kindle. When it was delivered this week, as luck would have it, I had just finished reading another book and so I pounced on it.

I read Weather essentially in one sitting, something I almost never do. True, it is a short book, just over 200 pages and it was raining outside that day and so my other preferred activities were limited. But the main reason for the quick read is that the writing is propulsive. Each paragraph or section leads one inexorably to the next. 

The format of the narrative is somewhat like a diary. Each entry could almost be seen as discrete, standing on its own, and yet each entry also encourages the reader to read on, to see what is coming next.

The narrator of the novel is Lizzie Benson, who abandoned her graduate studies to take care of her drug-addicted and depressed brother. She never returned to those studies, but with the intervention of one of her previous professors, she obtained a job as a college librarian, in service of which she becomes a fount of useless (or maybe extremely useful) information. For example, various survival strategies; such as did you know that you can use a can of oil-packed tuna to generate two hours of light if you don't have a candle? And you can still eat the tuna afterward! 

Lizzie is married to Ben, a gentle classics scholar, a PhD who makes educational video games for a living and who finds joy in reading the Stoics. Lizzie and Ben live in New York and they have a son named Eli who is in first grade at a predominately East Asian public school.

Also integral to Lizzie's life are her brother, Henry, who she is still trying to save and her mother who lives in another city but drops strong hints that she would like to live in the same city as her children, possibly in the same apartment with her daughter. Her hints are ignored. And then there is Sylvia, the professor who helped Lizzie get her job and who is now a well-known public intellectual for whom Lizzie does some work in dealing with social media. 

These are the people who mainly comprise Lizzie's universe. Her narrative addresses her relationships with them. That narrative is sardonic and insightful, darkly funny and often laced with paranoia. 

The time of the novel is the present. Much of the action takes place after the 2016 presidential election and the paranoia grows in direct proportion to national events and the feeling that the center cannot hold. There is anxiety about climate change and the rise of right-wing autocrats in the world, including in this country. Lizzie and Ben start looking for a "doomstead," some place where they can escape from the horrors that seem increasingly sure to overtake us. Canada, perhaps?

I find it almost impossible to sum up this novel or to adequately describe its sardonic humor. Maybe it's something that you just have to experience to appreciate it. All I can say is I loved the book and I highly recommend to anyone who may be feeling a little worried and insecure about the direction in which world events appear to be headed. Jenny Offill understands.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars      

11 comments:

  1. Super review. The book sounds like it has very well crafted characters. Setting it during the last election sounds like a good plot device. It was truly the build up to ominous things.

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    1. The author does not spend a lot of time describing her characters and yet she very subtly presents them to us in a way that we feel that we know them well. It's an art, one that she seems to have mastered.

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  2. Ohh nicely reviewed. Yes sign me up for this one .... I too am very concerned about the 2016 election and the direction of world events these days. I could use some humor ... which isnt always easy to do in fiction. I look forward to checking it out.

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    1. I'll be interested to read your thoughts on the book. I'm betting you will like it!

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  3. I'm so excited about this book after reading your review. I do have it on my Kindle. Sounds awesome. Thanks Dorothy!

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  4. I saw this one and thought of requesting an ARC but I thought that I have so many to review that wouldn't be approved. Anyways, great review, Dorothy! I can see how this one with its dose of humor and apparent chaos beneath the surface would make for great reading. I'll keep it in mind, especially because, as you said, is rather short.

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    1. The sardonic humor is a very attractive feature of the novel.

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  5. I loved Dept of Speculation. Jenny Offill seems to have a special gift of being able to articulate what many of us feel but can't always find the words or the humor.

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    1. I have not read her earlier book but after reading this one I really want to.

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  6. Dorothy, what a "spot on" review! I can tell you really enjoyed it. Thanks for letting me know.

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