If you’re a reader who prefers a neat plot within a linear, well-defined narrative best steer clear of Jenny Offill’s new novel. If, like me, you’re a fan of Dept. of Speculation and have been hoping for a little while to see Offill’s name pop up in the publishing schedules, you’re in for a treat. Set against the backdrop of Trump’s America and the ever more urgent climate crisis, Weather follows Lizzie as she tries to take care of everyone while disappearing down an apocalyptic wormhole, responding to the emails of listeners to the podcast, Hell and High Water.
Lizzie works as a librarian, answering the many and various questions of its members, watching the comings and goings of the meditation class which she decides to join and fretting about her recovering drug addict brother, Henry, her husband Ben and their son, Eli. When Sylvia offers her work answering emails to her environmental podcast, Lizzie accepts, diligently researching and answering the concerns of both doomsday and evangelical listeners attracted by its name. Lizzie’s domestic worries continue to multiply: dodging the mother she offended at Eli’s old school, wondering if they’ll ever rid themselves of mice without upsetting Eli, taking in Henry when his marriage founders and toying with the idea of a fling, all while researching a ‘doomsted’ plan. By the end of this sharp, witty novella, the mice are still in situ, Henry has been six months clean and Lizzie has finally gone to the dentist but the planet, of course, is still warming.
Can pets be saved in Christ and go to heaven? If not, what will happen to them?
Offill delivers Weather in bite-sized chunks, paragraphs of whatever is preoccupying Lizzie, punctuating her narrative with questions from podcast listeners, anxious as to what they might do to prepare, where they might be safest, how to feed themselves and their families. Lizzie spends her time trying to solve everyone else’s problems with little emotional energy left over for Ben, Eli or herself. There can be no resolution to her many concerns, domestic or global. It’s impossible to save everyone – even Sylvia seems to have given up:
Of course, the world continues to end,” Sylvia says, then gets off the phone to water her garden
Weather approaches the crisis facing our planet with wit and panache, a constant ever darkening backdrop to Lizzie’s everyday dilemmas. It’s a triumph: fragmented, non-linear and discursive, it really shouldn’t work yet it does so beautifully.
Granta Books: London 2020 9781783784769 224 pages Hardback