I Read Jenny Offill’s “Weather” and Now I Feel Funny

I have been on a roll recently. I have burned through a handful of decent books, one right after the next. However, I think I’ve finally reached a good point to stop, breathe, and take a look back. There is a certain type of book that’ll require this of you, and Jenny Offill’s Weather is, indeed, that. Here, I will be sharing my thoughts and praises — no spoilers included.

This is not to say that reading this book was some grueling feat that prompted me to take a long-awaited reading break. Weather actually took less than two days for me to finish. And despite its short reading time, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I have (surprisingly) no complaints or critiques. In fact, I argue that Offill’s Weather is a phenomenal, precedented piece. It absorbs you, however unwillingly. It demands that you actually pay attention to what you’re reading, and not in any cheap sort of way. It is a book that tugs at your sleeves and begs you to come out and play. Of course, you must know that the playground will be littered with glass shards and needles. After all, Offill’s Weather is a book firmly rooted in reality. So much so, it prompts one to question their own lucidity. In a world of screaming alarms, one must wonder: Who isn’t awake yet?

MYBAS…May You Be Among the Survivors.

When formulating my main points for this review, I contemplated various ways of explaining its complex, yet intimate dynamic. It is told from one perspective, but does that mean there is a protagonist? In practice, the term protagonist often implies there is an antagonist — a looming threat that entices despair within the protagonist. And granted the sociological nature of this book, one could certainly say: Well, isn’t capitalism the antagonist? And if not that, than the prison-industrial complex? Or the war on drugs? Or climate change? Or racism? Or sexism? Aren’t they all antagonists in this book? Indeed, one wouldn’t be wrong to argue this. In Weather, pain comes from all different directions. But if this book conveys nothing else, it is that we cannot look at the world as if it entirely evil, nor can we look at ourselves as if we are entirely good. The antagonist may very well become the protagonist when they recognize their role in the game — meaning, how they impact it. Likewise, a protagonist may become the antagonist when they throw their hands up in the air, and remove themself entirely from the game. Abiding by a binary cannot, and will not, reverse atomization.

But I digress. (Read the book, and you can tell me how our main character fits the box.) Weather is told from the first-person account of an observant and inexplicably self-aware woman. Once a promising academic, she earns herself a job at a university library out of the goodwill of a former professor. Promise, in this professor’s eyes, is nearly as good as a sufficient degree. However, in our main character’s opinion, promise is simply a jumble of words and visions that appease the bearer.

How do you know all this?

“I’m a fucking librarian.”

While she does not feel particularly entitled to her job, as she is aware she lacks the education many — if not all — of her coworkers possess, she finds herself returning to it each day. As a librarian myself, I felt particularly connected to her accounts of her work. She mentions choosing what books to re-shelf based upon the shelf’s proximity to a window, as well as the trials and tribulations of the circ desk, and the strange interactions with patrons that it leaves one viable to.

But how to categorize this elderly gentleman who keeps asking me to give him the password for his own email? I tried to explain that it is not possible for me to know this, that only he knows this, but he just shakes his head in the indignant way that means, What type of helpdesk is this?

Interwoven with these accounts of earning a wage, our main character offers up her innermost thoughts. She speaks of the mundanity of her days, underscored by the tone of her sociopolitical surroundings. The rhetoric often seeps in, turning even the most simple interactions into absurd, codified ones. Her analytical disposition is exasperated by her professor’s next quest for her: to be her personal assistant, whose primary job is to answer the many questions she is sent via email. Her former professor, being the host of a rather esteemed podcast, has found herself burdened by the task of pandering to her listeners. It begs the question, At what point does answering honestly become sadistic? Hope is not necessarily something to give.

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.

But you mustn’t be misled. Our main character does not fall down the rabbit hole of sardonic nihilism. If anything, her look down the tunnel only proves her hypothesis that it leads no where. You can bury your entire head in the sand, or you can put the sand in your eyes directly. And you can memorize prepper acronyms like they are the seven principles of the universe, and learn to make a candle from a can of tuna (in oil, not water). But it is unlikely that these outlets will satiate you if you understand the conditions of the craving itself. Under unforeseen conditions, Weather won’t tell you exactly what to do, but it will tell you to look at yourself, and to look forward, before you look down or backwards.

Read it or don’t. But whatever you do, don’t turn your gaze downward just to brood. Admire the ground. Then, look up and around.

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