Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer
WEATHER. By Jenny Offill. Alfred A. Knopf. 224 pages. $23.95.
“Toggles” is the word author Jenny Offill used in a recent interview to describe the interior switching in the life of her narrator. In this remarkable exploration of the effect of climate change on a woman’s life, Lucy moves back and forth between two worlds. On one hand, she does the stuff we all have to do to stay alive. She’s a wife and mother who plays with her child, fixes meals for the family, works as a librarian at the college where she didn’t finish her dissertation. She assists her mentor, a “prepper” guru, with her correspondence, takes a car service to work, even though she can’t afford it, and she meets a man on the bus, flirts with him, but doesn’t go any further. She counsels her mother, tries to help her addictive brother, and gives the woman outside her library money
On the other hand, she has a preoccupation – Weather. The dilemma of living ethically in a damaged world consumes her from time to time, even moment to moment. The guy she meets on the bus asks her what she’s afraid of; she answers “… dentistry, humiliation, scarcity. ” She overhears someone on the bus say it’s important to be on the alert for ”the decisive moment. ” He’s talking about 20th century photography, but she’s “… talking bout twenty-first century everything. ” When asked what she’s good at, she rattles off a full page of survival skills.
These thoughts surface, in what passes for a narrative here, as fragments. A signature of Offill’s style, used to great effect in her previous novel Dept. Of Speculation, these fragments can be as short as a random fact about the weather, or as lengthy as an entire domestic scene. Quotes from her mentor’s lectures, questions from correspondence, even a joke surface in Lucy’s consciousness.
The sometimes heavy, sometimes humorous episodes produce a sense of urgency contrasting with a normalcy of inaction, and, ultimately, a disintegrating narrative. The flicking back and forth builds to an unresolved tension at the end of the book, an anxiety not just for Lucy, but also for the reader – how responsible are we for the whole world?
Weather is a book of our time, for our time.