Vintage Contemporaries

Dept. of Speculation

Publisher: Vintage

A Best Book of the Year: The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, Minneapolis Star Tribune,, Electric Literature, Buzzfeed

In the beginning, it was easy to imagine their future. They were young and giddy, sure of themselves and of their love for each other. “Dept. of Speculation” was their code name for all the thrilling uncertainties that lay ahead. Then they got married, had a child and navigated the familiar calamities of family life—a colicky baby, a faltering relationship, stalled ambitions.
         When their marriage reaches a sudden breaking point, the wife tries to retrace the steps that have led them to this place, invoking everything from Kafka to the Stoics to doomed Russian cosmonauts as she analyzes what is lost and what remains. In language that shimmers with rage and longing and wit, Offill has created a brilliantly suspenseful love story—a novel to read in one sitting, even as its piercing meditations linger long after the last page.


There is a man who travels around the world trying to find places where you can stand still and hear no human sound. It is impossible to feel calm in cities, he believes, because we so rarely hear birdsong there. Our ears evolved to be our warning systems. We are on high alert in places where no birds sing. To live in a...
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The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, a startlingly incisive, sharply funny, beautifully written examination of marriage, motherhood, and fulfillment.

1. This novel...

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“Shimmering. . . . Breathtaking. . . . Joyously demanding.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Slender, quietly smashing. . . . A book so radiant, so sparkling with sunlight and sorrow, that it almost makes a person gasp.” —The Boston Globe

“Powerful. . . . Exquisite. . . . A novel that’s wonderfully hard to encapsulate, because it faces in many directions at the same time, and glitters with different emotional colors.” —The New Yorker
“A startling feat of storytelling . . . Each line a dazzling, perfectly chiseled arrowhead aimed at your heart.” —Vanity Fair

Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I’ve read before. If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1897, will you please simply believe me, and read it?” —Michael Cunningham

“You can read Jenny Offill’s new novel in about two hours. It’s short and funny and absorbing, an effortless-seeming downhill ride that picks up astonishing narrative speed as it goes.” —The New York Review of Books

 “Gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways.” —Sam Lipsyte

“Introspective and resonant. . . . Offill uses her novel to explore the question of how to be an artist as well as a wife and mother, when these states can feel impossibly contradictory.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Absorbing and highly readable. . . . Intriguing, beautifully written, sly, and often profound.” —NPR

“Audacious . . . Hilarious . . . . An account of matrimony and motherhood that breaks free of the all-too-limiting traditional stories of wives and mothers. . . . It may be difficult to truly know what happens between two people, but Offill gets alarmingly close.” —The Atlantic

“Piercingly honest. . . . A series of wry vignettes that deepen movingly.” —Vogue

Dept. of Speculation is a riposte to the notion that domestic fiction is humdrum and unambitious. . . . A shattered novel that stabs and sparkles at the same time. It is the kind of book that you will be quoting over and over to friends who don’t quite understand, until they give in and read it too. . . . A book this sad shouldn't be so much fun to read. ” —The Guardian (London)

“Whip-smart, defying description, will bring your walls down around you.” —Flavorwire

 “[A] mini marvel of a novel. . . . Unfolds in tart, tiny chapters suffused with pithy philosophical musings, scientific tidbits, and poetic sayings that collectively guide a brainy, beleaguered couple through the tricky emotional terrain of their once wondrous, now wobbly union.” —Elle