Weather by Jenny Offill
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: February 11, 2020
Lizzie has a good life. She’s an academic librarian with a loving husband and a young son. Her mother, although more religiously inclined than Lizzie will ever be, is in good health. Her brother has kicked his pill addiction, found a girlfriend and a job. Into this relative quiet comes an old mentor of Lizzie’s who asks her to answer the email for her wildly popular podcast. Given that much of her librarian work entails answering questions, Lizzie is interested, but wonders
I ask her what sorts of things she gets. All kinds, she tells me, but everyone who writes to her is either crazy or depressed. We need the money for sure, but I tell her I have to think about it. Because it’s possible my life is already filled with these people.
The money outweighs her concerns and she says yes. What follows in Jenny Offill’s novel Weather is a perfect storm of a personal life and a country shifted off its axis.
I loved Offill’s debut, Dept of Speculation and found Weather to be just as engaging. However, her writing is extremely stylized and if you didn’t like Dept you’re not going to like Weather. It’s that simple. Her style is exactly the same in both books. It works for me because it is so recognizable. Picture the large metal cage that tumbles bingo and lottery balls around. Now picture a hand diving in and pulling one out. That’s Offill and how she writes. It’s Lizzie’s brain and she’s just dropping in at any given moment to pull out a thought and transcribe it. Often, they’re humorous, as when Lizzie is looking at a pile of clean laundry
I spot my favorite shirt, my least depressing underwear. I go into the bathroom and change into them. Now I am a brand-new person.
Because, yes, favorite undies can do that for you.
But Offill can just as easily cut to the heart.
I yelled at him for losing his new lunchbox, and he turned to me and said, Are you sure you’re my mother? Sometimes you don’t seem like a good enough person.
He was just a kid, so I let it go. And now, years later, I probably only think of it, I don’t know, once or twice a day.
These jumpy, scattershot moments in the novel feel attuned to the increasingly pervasive mood in America. Offill uses them to tinge Weather with a dread that darkens to a deeper anxiety. Lizzie and everyone around her lose their footing—in ways both small and large. She continues to try answering questions that become more evangelical and survivalist, but finds they take root inside her. The 2016 election passes and the pursuant reversal in policies and denial of science exacerbates her fears. She starts reading doomsday sites and researching what to do to survive. No one around her is immune.
Offill interweaves the chaos and toxicity ramping up in the country with the effects it has on everyday life and attitudes. Weather is a quirky, off beat novel; it’s funny and poignant, but it doesn’t wrap up neatly. Instead, it feels like Lizzie’s struggle to keep her balance is all too real.
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