Weather
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Weather

Jenny Offill

‘What are you afraid of, he asks me and the answer of course is dentistry, humiliation, scarcity, then he says what are your most useful skills? People think I’m funny’

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practise her other calling: as an unofficial shrink. For years, she has supported her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but then her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right wingers worried about the decline of western civilization.

As she dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to acknowledge the limits of what she can do. But if she can’t save others, then what, or who, might save her?

And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.

Review

If I were more paranoid than I am willing to admit, I would be ruminating very seriously on when and how Jenny Offill (or her agents) entered my brain, extracted many of my thoughts, concerns, and neuroses, and put them into her new novel, Weather. Instead, I’m going with the idea that Offill and I are simpatico on a number of important matters, and that if we ever meet, we’ll have a lot to talk about (though that might be when the serious paranoia kicks in).

Our hero is Lizzie Benson – unqualified librarian and former student of significant but squandered promise – who casually wonders what is going to happen when the end days are upon her, and semi-seriously thinks about prepping for that eventuality. At the same time, Lizzie is a mother and partner, a PA to her former academic mentor now running a podcast about the future, a sister to an addict in recovery, a daughter to a hyper religious mother, and a person not prepared to suffer too many fools. As ever, Offill’s writing, delivered in her trademark fragmented style, is so clever and funny, full of wry insight, but also a warmth and humanity that transcends its satire.

Weather is a book that appears bang on time: it’s about the irony of lives that go on as ‘normal’ because they are yet to be directly impacted by the climate crisis that is plainly unfolding in front of us. For me, this book exemplifies how reading and writing are crucial to how we’ll make our future: Offill exposes us and we should feel uncomfortable enough to act. This book is about weathering in the other senses of that word too: the endurance of the everyday and the sometimes-bizarre and mundane interactions that form our days, and the way we, ever-so-slowly, find ways toughen ourselves with a veneer that others encounter.

Weather feels like it was written just for me, and I, suspect, will feel like this for many other readers too. I can tell already: it is one of my favourite books of the year.


Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.

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