"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"--
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
3 1/2 stars
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.