One-Minute Book Reviews

March 7, 2015

Love in the Time of Yoga Pants — Jenny Offill’s ‘Dept. of Speculation’

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:37 pm
Tags: , , , ,

A Brooklyn mother wonders how she became “one of those people who wears yoga pants all day” after her husband has an affair

Dept. of Speculation. By Jenny Offill. Vintage Contemporaries, 192 pp., $15, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Adultery is God’s way of telling you that you need a divorce, an old joke says. In contemporary fiction, it’s often a sign that you need to take up yoga and see a therapist. Jenny Offill turns that literary cliché into a sophisticated portrait of a Brooklyn mother blindsided by her husband’s affair in this brief, elliptical novel.

Offill’s unnamed narrator is a neurotic and demanding author and writing teacher who has the mix of insecurity and grandiosity that bedevils so many artists. “I hate often and easily,” she says. She scorns people “who sit with their legs splayed” and who “claim to give 110 percent.” When her husband takes up with an “easier” woman to handle, she appears to have no coherent set of religious, cultural, or philosophical views to sustain her and tries to cope by gathering the shards of insight that she finds in diverse beliefs or practices — Judaism, Buddhism, Stoicism, Manichaeism, cosmology, self-help books and yoga classes. In middle-age, she’s still making herself up as she goes along. How, she wonders, has she become “one of those people who wears yoga pants all day”?

A drastic step eases her turmoil but begs the question of why, throughout adulthood, she has found herself in the predicaments she has. The belated revelation that her mother died when she was young and her “father was elsewhere” is a throwaway. But her daughter is an enduring consolation. You never doubt her love for a child who, while nursing, would stare at her “with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.”

Jan is a novelist, award-winning journalist and former book editor of the Plain Dealer. Please follow her on Twitter at @janiceharayda for news of other reviews.

Best line: “How has she become one of those people who wears yoga pants all day? She used to make fun of those people. With their happiness maps and their gratitude journals and their bags made out of recycled tire treads. But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.”

Worst line: The narrator’s comment on her and her sister’s childhood: “Their mother died when they were young. Their father was elsewhere.” These sentences, in context, tell you so little that you wonder if they reflect the misguided suggestion of an editor or other reader who believed the book needed something to explain its heroine’s neediness. Dept. of Speculation might well have benefited from that, but Offill is telling, not showing, in these lines.

Published: January 2014 (Knopf hardcover). October 2014 (Vintage Contemporaries paperback).

(c) 2015 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 18, 2009

‘Yoga School Dropout,’ a Memoir by Lucy Edge

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:44 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The number of yoga schools in my suburb might equal, on a proportional basis, the number of barbecue joints in Kansas City. Exactly why this is so, I don’t know. But we just got our third Starbucks: Maybe people are so hypercaffeinated, they have to go to yoga classes just to come down from their frappuccino highs?

Living in a town where hemp mat bags are a fashion accessory has turned me into literary infidel: a person who keeps recommending a book she hasn’t read. Or opened. Or even seen. It’s Lucy Edge’s memoir, Yoga School Dropout (Ebury, 352 pp., $22), which sounds like an Eat, Pray, Love without the eating, praying, or loving. Apparently Edge went to India looking for spiritual enlightenment and instead had revelations like: “Unfortunately, when you travel, you take yourself with you.” Her book has a whimsical cover that plays with a Hindu-goddess motif.

Obviously these facts don’t tell you nearly enough to recommend a book. But my town has so many yoga schools, people have to be flunking out of some of them. And because I haven’t read Edge’s book, how can I say it wouldn’t comfort the exiles? So I’ve suggested that a few friends visit the Yoga School Dropout Web site, where you can download the first chapter. If you’re looking for a gift for somebody whose Downward Facing Dog got kicked out of obedience school, you might look at it, too.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda


The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 490 other followers

%d bloggers like this: