No pictures of books lying open on a bed, surrounded by neutral blankets, dried flowers, and half drunk cups of coffee, for me. I prefer simple. Real over artificially composed. And, an author who writes as if she understands exactly what I am thinking myself.
Such is Jenny Offill.
Her writing is lyrical. It is contemplative. Stream of consciousness, within a wry joke, within a story. Somewhere in this novel she is pointing us to hope, using the devices of humor, anecdote, reflection, and “prepping.”
What to Do If You Run Out of Candles
A can of tuna can provide hours of light. Stab a small hole in the top of an oil-packed tuna can, then roll a two-by-five-inch piece of newspaper into a wick. Shove the wick into the hole, leaving a half inch exposed. Wait a moment for the oil to slack to the top of the wick, then light with matches. Your new oil lamp will burn for almost two hours and the tuna will still be good to eat afterward.
But, this is not the stuff that appeals to me the most. It is the narrator’s reflection on her job as a librarian, her role as sister, wife and mother. (As I read, I wished I had written more of the things my son said to me when he was small. All I can remember is, “Mom? What do strangers look like?”)
I will leave you with some snippets of my favorite bits. Surely they will give you an indication of why I love this book so much:
But how to categorize this elderly gentleman who keeps asking me to give him the password for his own email. I try to explain that it is not possible for me to know this, that only he knows this, but he just shakes his head in that indignant way that means, What kind of help desk is this?
The problem with assortative mating, she said, is that it feels perfectly correct when you do it. Like a key fitting into a lock and opening a door. The question being: Is this really the room you want to spend your life in?
I kiss Eli’s head, trying to undo the rush. Why didn’t I have more kids so I could have more chances?
Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters?
Old person worry: What if everything I do does?
There is a species of moth in Madagascar that drinks the tears of sleeping birds.
Don’t use antibacterial soap! Catherine told me, because lalalalalalalala.
I’m like a woman carrying a full cup into a room of strangers, trying not to spill it.
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”
I think, ultimately, that she reminds us we are in charge of our own thoughts, our own outcomes. Here is one last passage:
A man is having terrible dreams. In them, he is being chase by a demon. He seeks counsel from a therapist, who tells him he must turn around and confront the demon or he will never escape it. He vows to do this, but each night in his dreams, he runs again. Finally, he manages to turn around and look straight at the demon. “Why are you chasing me?” He asks it. The demon says, “I don’t know. It’s your dream.”