Weather: A novel

by Jenny Offill

Hardcover, 2020

Call number




Knopf (2020), 224 pages


"Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years, she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She's 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 Lizzie 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 address the limits of her own experience--but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she's learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in--funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Narshkite
By absolute coincidence this came into the library just as Covid-19 became a real, present, overwhelming truth in our lives in New York. One day there were 8 cases, days later there are 21,000 cases. 21,000. It is incomprehensible, cataclysmic. Last week I was a block from 30 Rock and there were only 2 other humans visible on the street. But in the middle of what feels like a bad movie, we go on. Its what we do. Life is filled with personal mundane crap and it doesn't stop even when annihilation seems to be right around the corner. And this, this is what Weather is about.

The coming end of the world in Weather is from climate change, or really from the end of climate and the election of an anti-intellectual authoritarian president who decries all efforts to save the planet. Lizzie, her husband and son live in Little Pakistan. These are good people in every sense. They are thoughtful, they help their neighbors and their extended families however they can. They think about the crisis, but they also think about relatives who are lonely or have addiction issues, about the livelihood of the car service guy and the man who owns the bodega, and the people who seek guidance at the library where Lizzie works.

Offill is really funny and wise. Her Brooklyn lens is brutal and hilarious and dead on. In one of my favorite lines as she is running out of antidepressants and has nothing but Ambien to help her decompress at the same time she is helping her brother who is an addict who may be falling off the wagon with the combined stress of a newborn and the impending apocalypse Lizzie thinks "I remind myself (as I often do) never to become so addicted to drugs or alcohol that I'm not allowed to use them,"

This is a slim book, a speedy read - it really could be a single sitting book if you have say 4 hours to spend. (It took me 10 days because I was dealing with a pandemic that closed the doors on the program I run, we went online, at the same time I had a son to get out of Serbia and a sister to get out of Morocco as borders were shutting down without warning. I strongly recommend this one, though for those with anxiety, this may not be the moment you want to jump in.) Hopefully this pandemic will be ebbing by late summer, and this will be the perfect read.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is a very short novel told in a series of short, seemingly disjointed segments that end up giving the novel more mood and atmosphere than plot. Offill writes gorgeously and those sentences, which feel so immediate, are finely crafted. Lizzie is a librarian living in New York. Her brother is a recovering addict who is in a relationship and expecting a baby. Her mentor has a podcast and wants to hire Lizzie to answer her mail, which deals largely with concerns about a collapsing world. Lizzie ponders global warming and how best to react to the changes in climate.

But a synopsis of what happens very much fails to explain what is so compelling about this book. As Lizzie negotiates her way through her daily life, she thinks about the people she knows and about what to do if everything falls apart, taking advice from doomsday preppers and scientists. It was an odd feeling reading about the end of the world while staying inside because of the pandemic. The segments about surviving were both applicable and distant from the current situation, although global warming is still occurring and the risk grows greater even as we're distracted by more immediate perils. And despite the focus on the state of the earth, this isn't a heavy-handed or hopeless novel at all.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
When one reads as many book as I do, the search for something different but good, is ongoing. This author seems to fill the bill. She takes the reader inside the thoughts of a young woman, Lizzie, who is juggling many of life's trials. She is a mother, a wife, tried to take care of her mother, and her brother who has had a problem with drugs. Additionally, the doomsday prediction with the climate and the unfriendly political situation, also preys on her mind. She works in a university library, sans degree, due to the help of her mentor, and has been convinced to answer letters by said mentor, with a podcast called, Hell or high water. She is a very busy, too busy, young woman. She is also a character that is very relateable.

The book is written in snippets of thoughts, an inner monologue that skips from thought to thought. When one ponders this way of writing fiction, this structure, one realizes that this is the way one thinks. Our inner thoughts actually are like this, we don't think in a long diatribe but often short observations.

I really enjoyed this, not only does it make for a quick read, but it was never boring. It also adequately captured what was going on in her life, in an unusual but effective format. We can see just how much she is struggling for balance in this too busy life, and how she handles the many different strands.

ARC by publisher.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Lizzie lives in New York City in Little Pakistan. She works in a college library but is not an actual librarian. She’s a former psychology student who answers email for her former professor, Sylvia (who’s on the lecture circuit and pressed for time), so Lizzie is answering questions sent to a psychologist without being an actual psychologist.
Lizzie is a very real “doomer” and “prepper” for a post-climate change planet, however. She frets endlessly over “the numbers,” her son’s future, and the political direction of the USA. She wonders about what country she and her family should migrate to and build a “doomstead”—a homestead following the climate apocalpse--and she flees to this fantasy doomstead in her head and plots her supplies in detail, when she is supposed to be taking up meditation.

Lizzie doesn’t actually have the money to migrate anywhere—money is short. She can’t even, due to the neediness of her brother Henry, go on vacation to Canada with her family, who go on vacation without her. Since Canada would be a genuine location for her “doomstead,” it is ironic that Lizzie can’t manage to get there. The codependent Henry and his disastrous life seem like more than enough doom for Lizzie to manage—there is a personal apocalypse unfolding in her house. While her family is in Canada, a handsome man catches her eye in the subway. Lizzie gets to know him, and, like the fake shrink that she is, begins analyzing both him and their whole situation to death.

You’d call Lizzie neurotic if she didn’t have dozens of very real stressors plaguing her. Between the students, the professors, her precocious small son, her poor and eccentric mother, her addict brother, and Mr. Subway Temptation, Lizzie isn’t just a woman in a typical “sandwich generation” situation, she’s a tall hoagie. The novel is written with aplomb with Lizzie as a first-person narrator and reads as intimately as a memoir, only occasionally becoming too vague (in political references, for instance) to confuse the reader. Lizzie's beleaguered and nimble brain spins in myriad delightful directions as the reader hopes that she will get a grip, or find some answers, or that the greater world around her (and us) will become less threatening.

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from the publisher and was encouraged to submit a review.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
I am not sure I would have finished this book if I wasn’t reviewing it. It all came together in the end, as Lizzie uses the accumulation of knowledge she’s gained while being a librarian. She’s got a marriage, a busy son, a crazy mentor who Lizzie is helping, her brother, a former addict who is now a father and a mother obsessed by God. How can she juggle all their problems along with her own is quite an adventure and I am glad I finished the book. If you are looking for a book with strict plot structure, this isn’t it, but it’s a good look at a woman’s fragmented life and how she copes with everything that she must.… (more)
LibraryThing member pgchuis
The Goodreads blurb is helpful for showing the reader the shape of the narrative. I appreciated this in a whimsical way, but the unresolved nature of what passes for a plot meant that it just sort of ended. I did enjoy the joke about the turtle and the snails very much though.
LibraryThing member oldbookswine
Perhaps it’s just not my kind of book. Will reread at some point to see what the reviews are about
LibraryThing member sleahey
Written in the same style as The Dept. of Speculation, Offill has again crafted a novel from snippets of thoughts that somehow leave a powerful impression. Although there is a plot involving troubled family members and friends, this book has more to do with the development of our understanding of the protagonist Lizzie, a librarian who is also a therapist in the way of a bartender. Librarians will recognize her astute and caring observations of patrons, and we can all relate to her fears and anxiety about climate change and the political strife of our times. The paragraphs of only a couple of sentences read like stream of consciousness, but are very different from the long rambling approach taken by many authors. What thinking person in this divisive time has not wondered "How can I tell if those around me would become good Germans?" For readers who appreciate sparse and lyrical prose, this book will leave a lasting impression.… (more)
LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Jenny Offil's much discussed new novel Weather, is a quick and funny read about topics not so quick or funny, like a lasting marriage, fighting back addiction and climate change. In a very skimpy plot line we meet Lizzie, a university librarian, who is asked by her former mentor/professor to answer her ever growing emails regarding her popular podcast about climate change. At work she uses her encyclopedic knowledge and her resources at the library to provide pithy replies to the various wacko groups that write in. At home she struggles with her marriage, raising a bright son, and helping her brother stay sober. All these pieces of narrative are delivered in short burst of insights, evidently referred to as autofictional narration. There are funny bits, even outright jokes, and the reader gets a sense of the warring impressions that make up her struggles. I enjoyed the experience and would be interested in exploring her earlier novel, Department of Speculation.
Some samples:
The problem with assortative mating, she said, is that it feels perfectly correct when you do it. Like a key fitting into a lock and opening a door. The question being: Is this really the room you want to spend your life in.

All kinds, she tells me, but everyone who writes her is either crazy or depressed. We need the money for sure, but I tell her I have to think about it. Because it’s possible my life is already filled with these people.

Q: What is the philosophy of late capitalism?
A: Two hikers see a hungry bear on the trail ahead of them. One of them takes out his running shoes and puts them on. “You can’t outrun a bear,” the other whispers. “I just have to outrun you,” he says.

A woman walks into a dentist’s office and says, “I think I’m a moth.” The dentist tells her, “You shouldn’t be here. You should be seeing a psychiatrist…” The woman replies, “I am seeing a psychiatrist.”The dentist says, “Then what are you doing here?” And she says, “Your light was on.”
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Jenny Offill seems to be on a path towards mastery of a stream-of-consciousness writing style assiduously crafted to make a coherent, comic, dark statement, in this case about the end days and daily life. Yep....big task, cleverly accomplished. It isn't funny, but she finds humor enough to make the topic bearable. Good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
This short novel is narrated by Lizzie, a librarian married to Ben, mother of Eli and sister to Henry. There's an on-going crisis, a sort of slow-apocalypse, and it's constantly on Lizzie's mind (along with her brother Henry, a recovering addict). This was not a comfortable book to read during the covid pandemic. Dread is everywhere in this book, understated and subtle, usually, but sometimes in your face and unavoidable, constantly reminding us that humanity may be facing the end of the world as we know it. It is written in a fragmentary style, more a series of vignettes than a novel. I didn't care for this sstyle in Offill's previous novel, Department of Speculation, but it found it quite effective here.

3 1/2 stars
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LibraryThing member Overgaard
brilliant - but I still like Dep't of Speculation better
LibraryThing member ozzer
This novel consists of a lot of very short narratives that resemble tweets or emails. Offill uses this approach to create a protagonist living a complex life in a setting of climate insecurity and authoritarian political threats. Been there, done that. It is indeed intimidating to consider how throwing in a worldwide pandemic may have raised the stakes a bit too high. But, alas, that was not on the horizon when this novel was conceived.

Lizzie has a lot on her plate. She has a recovering addict brother, an ailing mother, a preoccupied husband and a young son, a self-centered sister-in-law, an infant nephew, a job as a librarian, and a second job answering emails for a famous author. Through it all, she tries to meditate and act as an amateur psychologist for her family and friends. All while maintaining an odd sense of humor. Offill has succeeded in creating a fully realized and nuanced character in Lizzie. However, the story is pretty thin and not very clear. Moreover, although realistic, the narrative structure seems too chaotic to be very engaging. Happily, the novel is short enough to easily finish. One wonders if this would have been possible if it were, say, 400 pages.
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LibraryThing member rglossne
A librarian gradually comes to question her role in her family and the world, as her caregiving for her addict brother, her husband, and her son is gradually replaced by her obsessive concerns with climate change and political upheaval. Told only in her point of view in short paragraphs which are like diary entries in their brevity, clarity, and candor, the reader sees her gradually imperil her relationship with her family and become a bit mad.… (more)
LibraryThing member stephanie_M
What a strangely written novel. I get it’s purpose, and what it’s supposed to be, and do for us all. but it just seemed sometimes disjointed to me. Some parts were humorous, and there was some wit and wisdom there..... but it just contains snippets of these people’s lives, and I wanted more to it all.
Cassandra Campbell is the narrator of the audiobook, and not even she could work up the energy to do much for this novel.

3 stars, and recommended to Offill’s most ardent fans.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Lizzie is a librarian working and living in New York with her husband and young son. Then an old college professor asks her to start going over her mail with questions and answers from all sorts of people about the professor's climate change podcast, and Lizzie becomes fascinated with end-of-the-world prep.

This is a very disjointed novel told in almost a set of impressions rather than a straightforward narrative, with Lizzie's brief narration of something that happened, or a quote, or a question and answer, dispersed throughout. I found it really frustrating to read. This type of story, where the reader has to do a lot of work to piece together what's happening, ends up being an exercise in frustration for me when I don't have, say, a college professor reading with me to help tease it out. But it's also a short novel, so when I had figured out I wasn't enjoying it, I was already 70% of the way through, and just trudged on hoping for the ending to help me out. But no, I'm just confused.
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LibraryThing member davidroche
Weather (Granta) by Jenny Offill is a quite remarkable book. 200 pages structured in distinct sentences or paragraphs, it is so easily digestible that one forgives oneself for constantly going back and re-reading some beautifully constructed text that you have just consumed just to make sure that you have savoured it sufficiently. That it carries a story along with the worries of the current world distilled into the thoughts of the everyday is a complete bonus. I cannot recommend this highly enough.… (more)
LibraryThing member Hccpsk
I like what Jenny Offil does--quirky short blips of dialogue, random thoughts, humor, a little plot to move things along and a lot of angst. It wasn’t for everyone with her last book (Dept. of Speculation), and I’m guessing her new novel (really novella at 95ish pages, right?) will meet with similar contradictory reviews. The angsty main character of Weather likes to listen to other people’s problems while somewhat ignoring her own. As a former bartender and current academic librarian in New York, she finds no shortage of customers. Throw in a recovering drug addict brother, a precocious child and a weakly drawn husband to really fill up Lizzie’s time. Offil then weaves in plenty of national issues including Trump’s election, and #MeToo--who wouldn’t be half-crazy? Weather reads like a whirlwind; truthfully I’m not sure I could have taken much more, but I enjoyed the short romp while it lasted. Definitely not for everyone, but readers who don’t mind a little stream of consciousness with their contemporary fiction may enjoy this short piece.… (more)
LibraryThing member shazjhb
A sharply written book with minimal story line and characters but well written and interesting
LibraryThing member jphamilton
I’ve just finished Weather by Jenny Offill, and it was a transcendent experience. Some of that experience might be attributed to some extremely loud Neil Young music, and some tasty beer, but her writing is very original, emotionally intense, intelligent, funny, and brave. Her style comes at you in small, tight, separated segments that seem unconnected at first, just firing off independently, but to me it was like acquiring a new language, one that reveals itself with common characters and reoccurring themes, slowly taking on the trappings of a story. Many things were slowly gathering a commonality for a clever, humorous, factoid-rich, despair-ridden story. It was brilliant. The book may also have one of the slyest front cover blurbs ever. Ocean Vuong wrote, “This is so good. We are not ready nor worthy.”

Readers familiar with Jenny Offill’s novels will be glad to slip into another of her distinctive books. Her bestselling book, Dept. of Speculation blew many reader’s socks clean off, as they instantly knew what a fine writer she was, but her previous novel, Last Things was also quite impressive.

In Weather, she centers the story around Lizzie Benson’s job at a university library (this explains the odd, fascinating factoids sprinkled throughout the book) and her side gig of being an amateur shrink, answering letters to a struggling podcast that’s hosted by her former mentor. Most of these letters, reflecting the focus of the podcasts, are desperate people fearing the bleakness of the planet’s future. Constantly trying to be a voice of hope among all these depressed and desperate people, takes a toll on her personal life. Someone describes her job as one centered on disaster psychology, as she helps those fearing the end of our world.

The way Offill deals with all these factors with a unique style, a sharp wit, and a vast range of knowledge in different areas—one can’t help but be impressed. The immerging story lines duck and weave their ways through her “isolated” segments. She includes the fragile lives of her friends and family, her own jobs, our home planet starting to bubble in its own warming waters—like the story of the boiling frogs, and even another source of great unease and depression, the 2016 presidential election. Lizzie’s personal issues are often sources of great pain, and yet they are always sharing space in her head and heart with the podcast’s constant flow of dismal letters.

This is a story of love, laughter, and life-threatening facts, but Offill’s superb talents balance and tell it all so impressively. I will always be interested in her next book.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
Where Crudo recreated the feeling of dread when scrolling through a doom-laden Twitter screen, this is a more effective book ABOUT our uncertain times (pre-Covid). There's the same fragmentary format, but it felt more like a fully-realised novel than Crudo, or indeed Department of Speculation. I've chalked off one star because it's just so depressing to be confronted with how things are. Thankfully Offill weaves in enough humour to keep readers from throwing the book (or Kindle, or iPad) at the wall in despair.… (more)
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Is everything getting worse? The whole earth’s climate is becoming increasingly inhospitable. For the narrator of this novel, her husband, Ben, and their young son, Eli, even the political environment is becoming inhospitable. There may be heavy weather ahead. In such climes, it’s really a question of survival. But what does it mean to survive? Fortunately, the narrator’s gentle, ironic take on her own life and what we used to call “events” is a refreshing tonic, perhaps the only tonic available for those of us who share her otherwise wholly rational anxieties.

A year, more or less, ensues. There is work, friendship, family, responsibility, and fair share of love, I think. If you are planning ahead for your “doomstead” you’ll want to ensure that everyone in your group has essential skills. And knowing how to tell a gently funny story is definitely essential for me.

Although a slim volume, Weather is not slight, which may explain why people are talking about the weather all the time.

Easily recommended.
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LibraryThing member boredgames
a lot to be admired from the vignette form in here, but it peters out toward the end to white-middle-class-possible-affair-who-caresness and a retread of the territory in dept of speculation.
LibraryThing member arewenotben
Really wonderful; witty, frightening and free ranging with its finger definitely on the contemporary pulse. Reminded me of Ali Smith's Seasons Quartet, equally short yet perfectly formed. An early contender for best of 2020.

Edit: Re-read as will be writing an essay about this and how it handles the Climate Crisis. Still just as readable and rich. Lots of interesting ideas about time which I missed on first read, and also the personal burdens we deal with.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarrieWuj
Loved this for its smooth readability but thoughtful presentation. Though I read it in a day, the things to think over or talk about lasted many. Told in a stream-of-consciousness that took a few pages to adjust to, the story is from the viewpoint of Lizzie who works in a university library, is wife to Ben, a loving man who is an educational video-game designer, mother to Eli, a precocious, curious 5 year old and sister/caretaker/enabler to Henry, a recovering addict. "Weather" refers not only to literal climate patterns, but also the tone and tenor of Lizzie's relationships, especially with Henry who is so precarious. Her ability to read these patterns and adjust to them is admirable, but also her own stumbling block when she struggles to act autonomously. Lizzie is a go-along, get-along type, who rides the currents of others' lives well, until she almost doesn't. A wind of change blows through when her former professor, Sylvia, returns to campus for a lecture and reaches out to offer Lizzie an assistant job answering her emails. Sylvia's exact field (futurist? Climatologist?) isn't exactly clear, but her podcast "Hell and Highwater" sets the tone for a less-than-rosy scenario. These are the public Lizzie must deal with in her new role and she finds it increasingly difficult to maintain hope, which starts to impact her relationships. The book flap calls this book "a marvelous act of compression, and extraordinary mix of great feeling and wry humor" and notes Offill's impressive range of subject matter from "deep ecology to mystical theology to the politics of collective action." which comes across organically channeled through Lizzie the librarian. Of course she knows stuff! It was a resonant read about what it means to live in uncertain times and where to cast your anchor.… (more)




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