Jenny Offill’s “Weather” tells us what to expect when we’re expecting the apocalypse
Climate change is the least of Lizzie Benson’s problems. She has a world of things to worry about: her mom, whose financial stability is shaky at best; her brother, who suffers variously from anxiety and addiction; a stay-at-home husband, who’s traded his PHD in the classics for videogame design and a little boy, adorable, precocious and learning to navigate his “gifted and talented” program. As for Lizzie herself, she’s still a work in progress: a grad school dropout, university librarian and unofficial shrink to all the lonely and troubled people in her orbit.
Still, it is climate change — the coming apocalypse of flood, famine and social disruption — that finally undoes her.
Working with a former mentor on her podcast, “Hell and High Water,” Lizzie comes in contact with the truly unhinged. Her job is to respond to listeners’ queries with “an obligatory note of hope,” whether it’s about the decline of civilization or the death of the planet. Sample advice: “A can of tuna can provide hours of light … and the tuna will still be good to eat afterward.”
There’s also Lizzie’s emotional affair and her brother’s short-lived marriage and new baby. Perhaps the great flood would be cleansing, I thought, when I finished the book.
“Weather” unfolds in six chapters, each composed of short bursts and gnomic affirmations, like a blog or Facebook thread. It is a perfect format for our social mediated attention span and for capturing the angst-y vibe of our everyday lives.
Jenny Offill is the author of “Dept. of Speculation” and “Last Things” and teaches at Syracuse University. She is scheduled to speak about “Weather” at Politics & Prose on March 1 — assuming we’re all still here by then.