Excerpt from Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Dept. of Speculation

By Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    192 pages.
    Paperback: 7 Oct 2014,
    192 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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Print Excerpt


Sometimes when the wife is trying to do positions, the yoga teacher will single her out for instruction. The wife can't help but notice that she never has to correct other students in this particular way.

Do not instruct the head! The head is not being instructed!

How has she become one of those people who wears yoga pants all day? She used to make fun of those people. With their happiness maps and their gratitude journals and their bags made out of recycled tire treads. But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.

* * *

The undergrads get the suicide jokes, but the ones about divorce go right over their heads.

You're a truth bomb, a cute guy said to her once at a party. Before excusing himself to go flirt with someone else.

Q. Why couldn't the Buddhist vacuum in corners?
A. Because she had no attachments.

The wife is advised to read a horribly titled adultery book. She takes the subway three neighborhoods away to buy it. The whole experience of reading it makes her feel compromised, and she hides it around the house with the fervor another might use to hide a gun or a kilo of heroin. In the book, he is referred to as the participating partner and she as the hurt one. There are many other icky things, but there is one thing in the book that makes her laugh out loud. It is in a footnote about the way different cultures handle repairing a marriage after an affair.

In America, the participating partner is likely to spend an average of 1,000 hours processing the incident with the hurt partner. This cannot be rushed.

When she reads this, the wife feels very very sorry for the husband. Who is only about 515 hours in.

* * *

The weather is theater here. They watch it through the window from their bed.

What Singer said: I wonder what these people thought thousands of years ago of these sparks they saw when they took off their woolen clothes?

The husband feeds the stove so she can stay in bed. He goes outside to get more wood. The sky looks like snow, he says. Saint Anthony was said to suffer from a crippling despair. When he prayed to be freed from it, he was told that any physical task done in the proper spirit would bring him deliverance.

At dinner, the wife watches the husband as he peels an apple for the daughter in a perfect spiral. Later, when she is grading papers, she comes across a student's story with the same image in it. The father and daughter, the apple, the Swiss Army knife. Uncanny really. Beautifully written. She checks for a name, but there is nothing. Lia, she thinks. It must be Lia. She goes outside to read it to the husband. "I wrote that," he says. "I slipped it into your papers to see if you would notice."

The Zen master Ikkyu was once asked to write a distillation of the highest wisdom. He wrote only one word: Attention.

The visitor was displeased. "Is that all?"
So Ikkyu obliged him. Two words now.
Attention. Attention.

Sometimes the wife still watches him sleep. Sometimes she still strokes his hair in the middle of the night and half asleep he turns to her.

Their daughter runs through the woods now, her face painted like an Indian.

Excerpted from Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Copyright © 2013 by Jenny Offill. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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