CRF Blog

‘The Smallest Possible Disaster’

by Bill Hayes

In ‘The Smallest Possible Disaster’ for the New York Review of Books, Elaine Blair reviews Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

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. What’s remarkable is that Offill achieves this effect using what you might call an experimental or avant-garde style of narration, one that we associate with difficulty and disorientation rather than speed and easy pleasure. The novel tells the story of a marital crisis in the lives of a previously more-or-less happy couple. Short microepisodes from the lives of the couple alternate with facts and quotations from all kinds of sources — scientific studies, foreign proverbs, the poems of John Berryman, the writing of Simone Weil, to take a few examples. [more]