Reading Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation was like getting a love letter from a tree- delightfully unexpected and I believed every word. This is what it’s like to be me, I thought, even though I’m not married, don’t have a child, haven’t experienced a single event of mid-adult life. More accurately then, This is what it’s like to be in my head: bits of things poets have said, random facts that aren’t random about space and dead people and antelopes, the occasional prayer to Rilke. I read this book in an afternoon, nodding the whole time like a bobble head on a good drive, afterward wanting fifty more just like it. When you find the rare author who thinks the way you do, it’s like being given a private tutor. Before that point the classroom was a mess, confusing as hell and the crayons were melting, but when this person steps in you at least know the lesson plan, what’s being asked of you.

There’s a Rilke quote towards the end: Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further.  

When I first wanted to be a writer, I thought I couldn’t do it for long because it’d take too much out of me. I equated creating art to drinking a lot, sleep deprivation, being reckless with your heart. Now I understand that the danger isn’t anything external, or at least not the most dangerous thing is external. The danger is the darkness within, not numbing it or skirting it, but spending the night in it, because that’s the only way to know enough to create. Dept. of Speculation is proof that Offill stuck her night out to the dawn, and we should thank her for it.