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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER  From the beloved author of the nationwide best seller Dept. of Speculation—one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of...
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER  From the beloved author of the nationwide best seller Dept. of Speculation—one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of...
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  • INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER 

    From the beloved author of the nationwide best seller Dept. of Speculationone of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of the Yeara “darkly funny and urgent” (NPR) tour de force about a family, and a nation, in crisis


    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. Sylvia has 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.

    “Offill’s fragmentary structure evokes an unbearable emotional intensity: something at the core of the story that cannot be narrated directly, by straight chronology, because to do so would be like looking at the sun…” —The New York Times

Excerpts-

  • From the cover One

    In the morning, the one who is mostly enlightened comes in. There are stages and she is in the second to last, she thinks. This stage can be described only by a Japanese word. “Bucket of black paint,” it means.

    I spend some time pulling books for the doomed adjunct. He has been working on his dissertation for eleven years. I give him reams of copy paper. Binder clips and pens. He is writing about a phi­losopher I have never heard of. He is minor, but instrumental, he told me. Minor but instrumental!

    But last night, his wife put a piece of paper on the fridge. Is what you’re doing right now making money? it said.
     
    The man in the shabby suit does not want his fines lowered. He is pleased to contribute to our institu­tion. The blond girl whose nails are bitten to the quick stops by after lunch and leaves with a purse full of toilet paper.

    I brave a theory about vaccinations and another about late capitalism. “Do you ever wish you were thirty again?” asks the lonely heart engineer. “No, never,” I say. I tell him that old joke about going backward.

    We don’t serve time travelers here.
    A time traveler walks into the bar.

    On the way home, I pass the lady who sells whirl­ing things. Sometimes when the students are really stoned, they’ll buy them. “No takers today,” she says. I pick out one for Eli. It’s blue and white, but blurs to blue in the wind. Don’t forget quarters, I remember.

    At the bodega, Mohan gives me a roll of them. I admire his new cat, but he tells me it just wan­dered in. He will keep it though because his wife no longer loves him.

    “I wish you were a real shrink,” my husband says.
    “Then we’d be rich.”
     

     
    Henry’s late. And this after I took a car service so I wouldn’t be. When I finally spot him, he’s drenched. No coat, no umbrella. He stops at the corner, gives change to the woman in the trash- bag poncho.

    My brother told me once that he missed drugs because they made the world stop calling to him. Fair enough, I said. We were at the supermarket. All around us things tried to announce their true nature. But their radiance was faint and fainter still beneath the terrible music.

    I try to get him warmed up quickly: soup, coffee. He looks good, I think. Clear- eyed. The waitress makes a new pot, flirts with him. People used to stop my mother on the street. What a waste, they’d say. Eyelashes like that on a boy!

    So now we have extra bread. I eat three pieces while my brother tells me a story about his NA meeting. A woman stood up and started ranting about antidepressants. What upset her most was that people were not disposing of them properly. They tested worms in the city sewers and found they contained high concentrations of Paxil and Prozac.

    When birds ate these worms, they stayed closer to home, made more elaborate nests, but appeared unmotivated to mate. “But were they happier?” I ask him. “Did they get more done in a given day?”
     

     
    The window in our bedroom is open. You can see the moon if you lean out and crane your neck. The Greeks thought it was the only heavenly object similar to Earth. Plants and animals fifteen times stronger than our own inhabited it.

    My son comes in to show me something. It looks like a pack of gum, but it’s really a trick. When you try to take a piece, a metal spring snaps down on your finger. “It hurts more than you think,” he warns me....

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 18, 2019
    A librarian becomes increasingly obsessed with doomsday preparations in Offill’s excellently sardonic third novel (following Dept. of Speculation). Lizzie, a university librarian working in Brooklyn, already feels overwhelmed with guiding her son, Eli, through New York City’s crowded elementary school system without the extra strain of dealing with her addict brother’s constant crises. Mostly happily married to a computer game designer, Lizzie introduces anxiety into her marriage when she takes a second job answering emails for a former mentor who is now the host of a popular podcast about futurism. Fielding questions from both apocalypse truthers and preppers for the coming climate-induced “scarcity,” Lizzies becomes convinced that doomsday is approaching. Her scattered, frenzied voice is studded with arresting flourishes, as when she describes releasing a fly: “Quiet in the cup. Hard to believe that isn’t joy, the way it flies away when I fling it out the window.” Set against the backdrop of Lizzie’s trips to meditation classes, debates with a taxi driver, the 2016 presidential election, and constant attempts to avoid a haughty parent at Eli’s school, Lizzie’s apocalyptic worries are bittersweet, but also always wry and wise. Offill offers an acerbic observer with a wide-ranging mind in this marvelous novel.

  • AudioFile Magazine Narrate Cassandra Campbell is fully believable as she narrates this stream-of-consciousness story told in the protagonist's voice. Lizzie, a university librarian without a degree who fancies herself an amateur shrink, tries to fix the personal disasters of family, friends, and library patrons while obsessing over the doomed future of the world. She has joy in her voice as she interacts with her husband and son, who give her life balance, but as she gets more involved in trying to solve the problems of her divorced mother and her brother, a former addict who is a new father, her voice becomes more detached. As the the character becomes overwhelmed, the narrator seems to, as well. As Lizzie takes over responding to letters to her mentor's podcast, Campbell's voicings of all the characters become less distinct and more distant in tone. N.E.M. � AudioFile 2020, Portland, Maine

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