Sunday, December 29, 2013

Speculating on the world and our roles therein; Reviews of The Department of Speculation (Offill) and What I Had Before I Had You (Cornwell)

This blog has always included chronic illness as one of its theme, a natural result when it is also the overwhelming them of your life much of the time.  Two days after saying no to the flu shot, I woke up, you guessed it, with the flu.  I take comfort in knowing it wouldn't have helped if I got the shot that day (and wont mention the prior offer to give a flu shot).  Anyway, I think I got on the upswing from the low point and then got knocked out by anther bug....and another. Not flu now, not well now either.  I seem to only feel well after I take my Ambien but before I am actually relaxes my twisty belly, crampy endo, ouchy sinuses, and tighter-than-tight-since-I-can't-do-my walks-legs/back.  May need some med discussions...we recently adjusted two medicines and if the way I feel is due to the change and not likely to abate, then it needs to be changed again b/c this is not tenable.  Reason for the ramble: to explain falling behind once again.

This a short book and can be a short read, but there's an awful lot of the ebbs and flows of modern life between its covers.  The premise, the couple once hit on the idea of writing letters to each other marked :"Department of Speculation," a phrase about the uncertainties in the path two separate people when they opt to marry and journey together.  The woman is the protagonist and we mostly she her view.  We watch as she falls in love, becomes a (sometime uncertain) mother, battles bedbugs, and deal with a painful blow to the relationship at the heart of her assembled life. 

There's a lot there. And yet there's a lot not there.  We, the readers, learn bits and pieces of many topics from history to philosophy with some astronomy thrown in.  We don't go to deep into the specific couple, heck, we don't give them names, but we see the decisions they make in order to preserve or change their circumstances, especially in the area of marital fidelity. 

I enjoyed it.  I wanted to enjoy it more.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to root for ANY outcome, which can make a reader less invested in the journey.  I enjoyed the little data bits and how they connected up (esp one focused on child age and paternal infidelity).  3.5 or 4 stars.  It might actually improve with a second spend some parts trying to catch up with what it happening and the knowledge could allow you to enjoy the ride more.

An Advance copy was provided by Knopf but all opinions are my own.

This novel take place in two primary eras, a pivotal summer for teenage Olivia, and a close-to-present-day time when Olivia and her own children pass through her childhood town, a part of the process of ending a marriage.

Young Olivia knows her mom is different.  She tells fortunes, reads palms, and speaks to her "twins." Olivia has been told her would-be-older-sisters died in infancy.  There is a lot of turmoil in the home that is hard to grasp until it becomes clear that mom is severely bipolar and there are early signs in Olivia as well.  This is a summer of rebellion and pulling away as Olivia also tries to figure out who she is, and who she could be apart from her mom.

In the latter year sections (woven throughout), Olivia's marriage is fading.  Her daughter Chloe appears to be fading a bit too as nine year ol Daniel is showing signs of a very significant, early onset, bipolar disorder.  When the trio stops for a breather, Daniel goes missing.  Present day Carrie retraces some of the important places of her youth and revisits an old friend as she, along with police, search for the boy.

Don't just call this a novel about bipolarism.  It is that, and notable for looking at three different manifestations of a broadly applied label, but it is also about family, both those of blood and those of other bonds. 

I read this Harper early release in exchange for my unbiased review.  It was a good book and I enjoyed most of it, but I'm not sure that it is going to be one I seek out to read again and I would likely struggle to describe the novel six months from now if only given the book's title.  3.5 stars, rounding down b/c it just didn't resonate with me.  Could be good for the right book club or an airplane ride, but can't picture shoving it into someone's hands as a must read.