Dept of Speculation


jennifer-chatI was so glad that we decided to dig into this one. The first time I read it I gobbled it up much too fast. It made the list of my favorite books last year and re-reading it reminded me of why.
shannon-chatI fell hard for this when I read it early last year and couldn’t wait to do a re-read before we discussed it. I was actually surprised by how much more linear and straightforward it felt the second time through. It was much easier for me to pick out what was a thought, what was a fact from her editing and what was a conversation, but I still loved the blend of everything.
monika-chatI felt like I might get more out of this book with a second reading. The question is: Do I want to? I’m thankful for this conversation; that’s probably enough.
catherine-chat2I didn’t get to a re-read but am pretty certain my response would still be a deeply instinctive need to hug this woman and buy her a martini while we commiserate about life.

“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.”

monika-chatNah, I’d rather buy myself a second martini. I just didn’t care enough about her to use my booze money on her. I did love all the takeaway quotes; lots to think about there. But the characters didn’t feel tangible to me. I wanted to feel what the character’s own experience was like; instead, I felt like I was reading the author’s musings. That was a huge disconnect for me.
shannon-chatWith this book, I was actually okay with the characters not feeling completely drawn…I thought it almost made them more relatable, in a strange way. Without names or details I found it easier to connect dots.
catherine-chat2The sketchy intangibles were what make them so real to me! And damn, Monika, you wouldn’t even drop a dime on a drink for this poor woman whose facing sticking with the reality of parenting and marriage against the euphoria of the dream?!
monika-chatI don’t spend money on imaginary friends. It’s hard for me to believe someone would completely buy into such an idealistic daydream, not in this day and age. Maybe I’m too cynical.

This woman felt more like a personification of our subconscious hopes and dreams—all of them. Which is actually a really cool approach, if that’s what the author intended!
shannon-chatI get the sense it is what she intended. But not only our hopes and dreams, it also gets at our nightmares and fears.
jennifer-chatThe bedbug infestation! They were so isolated and trapped by that situation. Also, the astronaut and arctic explorer talk…more isolation.

Everything about this book rang true for me. The way she wrote about falling in love and the way that love can change—in good ways and bad—when you have a child.

“And that phrase— ‘sleeping like a baby.’ Some blonde said it blithely on the subway the other day. I wanted to lie down next to her and scream for five hours in her ear.”

And the greatest truth of all, that having this wonderfulness in her life doesn’t make her a whole person.

“There is still so much crookedness in my heart. I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it.”

There is so much truth in this book that it’s almost painful. Reading about the unraveling of their marriage especially so. The inertia and boredom that bring about the husband’s affair is so typical that in another book it would almost be considered trite. Not in this author’s hands. Here, the wife’s agony leapt off of the page and made my throat close up.

shannon-chatLiterary Disco discussed the novel not too long ago (if you don’t listen to the podcast, you should!) and Rider said he feels this is a book for writers or people who read a lot, but otherwise it just feels pretentious. Do you think that’s true?

jennifer-chatAww, hell no. No, not at all. Pretentious? I didn’t get that. It reads exactly the way my mind works. Maybe I’m pretentious? Although, there are a few reading quotes, so maybe she was just real good at working her audience? I am, after all, a big reader.

“Advice for wives circa 1896: The indiscriminate reading of novels is one of the most injurious habits to which a married woman can be subject. Besides the false views of human nature it will impart…it produces an indifference to the performance of domestic duties, and contempt for ordinary realities.”

Also, the Midwestern sensibility of the husband kept it the book from becoming pompous and overblown. Says the Midwesterner.
shannon-chatI’m so with you on it being how my mind works. I think when I first reviewed it I said something about how it was like a collection of all the things you think about when you’re lying in bed at night.
catherine-chat2I don’t think it’s completely off the mark. She’s a writing professor, edits manuscripts…there is a fair bit of esoterica for such a tiny book. I like nerdy stuff and did not feel I was being talked down to. She was still accessible and yes, I totally agree on the internal dialogue aspect!

“Some women make it look so easy, the way they cast ambition off like an expensive coat that no longer fits.”

shannon-chatI’m a fan of it, too, and find myself attracted to different formats, especially if the author plays with writing, but I wonder if that’s the reason some people hated it…there’s not a traditional plot. It seems like a very polarizing little book.
monika-chatI enjoyed the format, but I felt “meh” about the book overall. I didn’t find it pretentious. It’s just that a big part of me kept thinking, “This is so surreal and…yeah, Murakami does this style better.” So I guess the execution fell flat for me.
shannon-chatMaybe we need to pick a Murakami so I’ll finally read him!
monika-chatYes! I’m holding you to this.


Read Our Reviews:

A Lovely Bookshelf | The Gilmore Guide | River City Reading | The Steadfast Reader

So, how did you feel about Dept. of Speculation, readers? Do you love the surreal style or long for a more linear plot? Is it easier to relate to”the wife” than a more clearly defined character?