Dept. of Speculation: Leaves the reader with more than enough material for “speculation.”

Sara Pisak, Opinion Editor

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Jenny Offill’s newly released novel, Dept. of Speculation, is a puzzling but an interesting read. It has been a few weeks since my first reading and I am still not sure what to make of this novel. This 192 page text can be read in an afternoon, which is a great idea as the reader will need plenty of time to process the novel’s plot and potential themes.

Offill’s novel follows a woman and a man simply known as “the wife” and “the husband” throughout their tempestuous relationship, which includes several affairs. In my opinion, the structure of the novel is a stream of consciousness novel taken to the extreme. In a stream of consciousness novel, the characters’ or the narrator’s thoughts and feelings are represented by uninterrupted dialogue or description. Offill uses this style in an unconventional way. Her stream of consciousness is consistently divided into roughly four to six short and concise paragraphs per page. This stream of consciousness includes many random facts, which “the wife” memorizes. A frequent fact that appears several times throughout the text is, “Antelope have 10x vision. That means on a clear night they can see the rings of Saturn.”

Although stream of consciousness is not a new form of writing, as it has been frequently employed by authors such as James Joyce, Offill’s use of injecting unusual scientific facts into her stream of consciousness text divulges into new territory. By standard definition, stream of consciousness is uninterrupted thoughts. Offill uses “the wife’s” guilt and “the wife’s” speculation towards her husband as an interruption to her own thoughts with memorized facts randomly entering her mind. This creates a delusion on the part of “the wife.” “The wife’s” delusion spreads and she often forgets to return to her original thought until several pages later; often resulting in leaving the reader in the dust. This habitually causes confusion for the reader or at least this reader was mildly confused.

I can define one unique aspect the text possesses; most of the first paragraphs on the page can be read together as background pertaining to “the wife’s” past. The middle paragraphs are present dealings, while the latter paragraphs seem somewhat predictive of the future. However, due to the fact that random details and stream of consciousness changes the text so radically, my “paragraph combination theory” does not always withstand. Since my “paragraph combination theory” and frankly the entire novel is open to interpretation, I can guarantee that if you try this style of reading it might not hold true for you. Considering each reader’s mind processes information differently, (“the wife’s” thoughts are proof of this) you might develop your own unique theory as to how the irregular ideas and plot of the text fit together.

Offill’s novel is constantly changing directions, which a reader can piece together in countless formations. This infinite number of plot structures makes the text messy, confusing and at times teetering on paranoia, then again the same can be said about life in general. If this commentary on life is what Offill was trying to create then she has certainly achieved this affect.

If this is not her intent, I am sure another reader will be able to devise a commentary, which reflects Offill’s ideals. I give Offill praise for experimenting with form but this experimentation creates more bewilderment than I personally care for in a novel. A reader will either finish this novel and love its immeasurable possibilities or dislike the fact the novel’s immeasurable possibilities possess no solid ground, which to build a foundation. Needless to say, Dept. of Speculation leaves the reader with more than enough material for “speculation.”

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