Weather by Jenny Offill (“Aren’t you tired of all this fear and dread?”)

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?

And:

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?

And:

I kiss Eli’s head, trying to undo the rush. Why didn’t I have more kids so I could have more chances?

And:

Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters?

Old person worry: What if everything I do does?

And:

There is a species of moth in Madagascar that drinks the tears of sleeping birds.

And:

Don’t use antibacterial soap! Catherine told me, because lalalalalalalala.

And:

I’m like a woman carrying a full cup into a room of strangers, trying not to spill it.

And:

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.”

15 thoughts on “Weather by Jenny Offill (“Aren’t you tired of all this fear and dread?”)

    • I figure if I am to give an indication of the novel, without giving too much away, I better use the author’s own words. I didn’t find the main character lacking in intelligence; I found her quite sympathetic in struggling to find her way as a sister, wife and mother. What perplexed me was the emphasis I found near the end, which Jenny wanted to place on environment/global warning. That was not my main take-away from her book, and it rather surprised me to read the last few pages.

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    • I don’t mean to be so impolite, but those Instagram pictures drive me crazy. As if everyone reads with sweaters pulled over their hands so that just the tips of their fingers show, while holding a cup of coffee over dried baby’s breath and an open book. For goodness’ sake…😌

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  1. Hahaha! I’m with you on the IG book pics! 🙂

    I’ve given this book a passing glance, but until I read the passages that spoke to you, I hadn’t planned to read it. Thank you for piquing my interest! This sound like my kind of book. Of all the quotes, this one in particular resonates with me:

    “I kiss Eli’s head, trying to undo the rush. Why didn’t I have more kids so I could have more chances?”

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    • Oh, that is a sorrowful thought, that strikes me from time to time: a bit of regret over things I’ve done, or not done, for my beloved son. So many of Jenny’s passages resonated with me as I was reading. I recommended her to another friend who is quite fond of Anne Lamont; I find the two writers similar, although perhaps that’s just me.

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  2. I have not read this one yet. I will. Also wanted to let you know that an earlier post in which you raved about Don Winslow got me off on reading The Power of the Dog and now I am hopelessly hooked. The Cartel is next. So thanks for that!

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    • Judy, I am so glad that you picked up some Don Winslow at my suggestion, and yet somehow I feel compelled to warn you (if you haven’t found out already!) how very violent The Power of the Dog trilogy is. And yet, it is not violence without a purpose…my eyes were surely opened to the way of the cartels, and perhaps more importantly, of Mexico’s government and ours. The powers that be are so complex, not to mention riddled with self-interest and worse, dishonest gain. Well, we’ll have to chat when you finish.
      Weather is a much lighter book, so lovely and contemplative.

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  3. The quotes remind me a little of Lorrie Moore. Enjoyed your review. Yes, I’m getting fed up with highly stylised blog photos, too. I saw somewhere a review of Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread and somebody had gone to the trouble of taking a photo of the book surrounded by different shades of blue thread. Why??!

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  4. M, I’m with you about posting real photos of books, not the styled ones. Those always make me feel lazy, like I’m supposed to be branding what I read or something. Ridiculous. That’s probably why I post rather sporadically on IG 🙂 About this book – reading what you wrote and the snippets you included makes me want to read it ASAP. Thank you 🙂 xx

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