Jenny Offill Presents Weather

By on Monday, February 24th, 2020 at 6:20 pm

Jenny Offill discusses WEATHER at Books Are Magic with Rumaan Alam

Jenny Offill presented her latest novel, Weather, at Books Are Magic and discussed it with Rumaan Alam. Weather follows the story of librarian Lizzie Benson who ends up working with her former mentor Sylvia, the host of a climate-change, end-times podcast. This new job puts her in the center of climate crisis doomsday prepping.

The structure of the novel, like Dept. of Speculation, Offill’s previous, has been described as fragmented. However, Offill says she sees her books more like constellations with points or stars and in the the end she can trace an image or shape. She doesn’t necessarily see the final image until the book is finished, but she always knows she’s working towards one. Although with constellations, many times people struggle to see the image created by the stars, she is sure of what she sees.

“I’m a big believer in white space and negative space,” she adds, describing narrative as a collaboration between the writer and the reader. Providing this negative space for the reader to pause allows the reader to bring their own associations and connections to the story. The moments then can come together slowly, built over the course of the narrative.

“The danger of fragmentary writing is that it can seem random,” she says. “I have to get to the point where I feel I can’t move something to another place.”

She compares the process of composing a novel like the composition of a piece of music where some instruments fade in and then fade out, but all working in tandem to create a symphony.

When she became a parent, Offill says she was amazed how often something trivial and something sublime would be next to each other. She wanted to use a structural form that would allow those two types of things to be side by side.

Climate change plays a major part of Weather. Offill says one inspiration was her boredom with the many articles outlining the climate crisis. It was terrifying to read, but also not exciting. This feeling served as a good filter on how to approach what to include in the novel. Eventually, pieces of information did jump out at her through the fog of boredom.

“I think climate change is something we feel at this low ambient dread,” Offill says.

Alam turns the conversation towards auto-fiction. Offill jokes how often people are confused to learn the facts of her life are different from those of her characters. She isn’t trying to set out to create characters that mirror herself though.

The protagonist, Lizzie, is a librarian, and Offill says she would have liked to have been a librarian. She researched the profession for the book, but admits to trying to avoid writing librarian action scenes in the novel so that real librarians wouldn’t be offended by her portrayal.

“Everything I write is emotionally biographical,” Offill says. “Anyone over the age of eight has felt loneliness.”

Offill says she went down a dark path of climate knowledge in researching the book. Her fear and dread resulting from the research–that part is autobiographical.

“Once you look at something it’s hard to unlook,” she says.

Jenny Offill and Rumaan Alam
Books Are Magic
Tuesday, February 11, 2020

English Kills Review is an online magazine covering books, authors, and writing with an emphasis on New York City. Founded in 2012, English Kills Review engages the literary community while highlighting noteworthy books and authors