INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLERFrom the beloved author of the nationwide best seller Dept. of Speculation--one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of the Year--a "darkly funny and urgent" (NPR) tour de force about a family, and a nation, in crisis Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you've seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience--but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she's learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in--funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad. "Offill's fragmentary structure evokes an unbearable emotional intensity: something at the core of the story that cannot be narrated directly, by straight chronology, because to do so would be like looking at the sun..." --The New York Times
- ISBN-13: 9780385351102
- ISBN-10: 0385351100
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
- Publish Date: February 2020
- Dimensions: 7.5 x 4.8 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.62 pounds
- Page Count: 224
Lizzie Benson, the protagonist of Jenny Offill’s smart, provocative new novel, Weather, has a lot on her mind.
Lizzie has opted out of a Ph.D. program and is underemployed at a university library in Brooklyn. She is the major supporter of her younger brother, Henry, whose addictions were the primary reason Lizzie abandoned graduate school in the first place, and her husband is losing patience. She actively avoids a bigoted neighbor, is cowed by the officious crossing guard at her son’s elementary school and frets over the dwindling attendance at the workplace meditation class. Not to mention her bum knee. After the 2016 election, her pessimism increases.
Lizzie’s former thesis adviser, Sylvia, who is now the host of a popular “doom and gloom” environmental podcast called “Hell and High Water,” hires Lizzie to field her listeners’ questions. Lizzie finds herself spending hours in a highly polarized virtual world, addressing the concerns of survivalists, doomsday preppers, climate-change deniers and panicky environmentalists. She grows obsessed with the psychology behind disaster planning and survivalism, exacerbating the situation by web surfing and watching reality shows on extreme couponing and animism. But as worrying as these issues are, nothing quite compares to Lizzie’s enmeshed relationship with Henry, whose fragile hold on sobriety is tested by a wife and new baby.
Like Offill’s award-winning Department of Speculation, Weather is short, absorbing and disturbingly funny. Its structure—quotations, lists, jokes, articles and emails mixed with Lizzie’s trenchant observations—echoes our current fragmented world and ever-shortening attention spans. As the tensions between the doomsday predictions and everyday relationships fray and fester, Lizzie finds it more and more difficult to keep from tipping over into despair. She begins to look to her loving family for stability, even as she tests their patience.
The title itself connoting climate conditions and the human ability to withstand and survive change, Weather feels both immediate and intimate, as Lizzie’s concerns become eerily close to our own.