‘I’ve always had an obsession with lost books, all the ones half written or recovered in pieces,’ says Jenny Offill’s narrator in Weather. That narrator is very like, but not the same as, the narrator of Offill’s previous novel, Dept. of Speculation: she’s a New Yorker, writerly, academic-ish, married with one child, and preoccupied with existential fear. In Dept. of Speculation, the fear was that by becoming a wife and a mother, the unnamed narrator had burned her opportunity to become an ‘art monster’. How to be an art monster when the mundane demands of home and baby have ‘cut the day up into little scraps’?
Dept. of Speculation’s form was a kind of answer to that problem, and Weather follows the same lines. ‘Half written or recovered in pieces’ could describe Offill’s own style: short, luminous paragraphs, with a story dispensed through implication and allusion rather than conventional exposition. It is the sort of writing which suggests the brief intervals of liberty that punctuate days of maternal drudge, the shafts of light between clouds of obligation. Offill has invented a literature of the scraps, and as a creature of the scraps myself, I am grateful. I read Dept. of Speculation and now Weather with hungry recognition. The resonance between the world she describes and the one I live in is so emphatic that reading her can feel like having my own interior narrative externalised – a disarming sensation that is a mark of her craft.What has changed in Weather? The child is a boy, not a girl. The narrator has a name this time: Lizzie. Her orbit has expanded to include not just child and husband (called Ben), but a drug-addicted brother, a Bible-thumping mother and an intellectual mentor as well. And the nature