How does a person who cares (possibly too much) for others respond to their woes, and to the all-time-great woe of the climate emergency? Serious subjects are addressed with joy and great style in this funny and kind short novel from the author of The Department of Speculation.
Lizzie lives in New York with her husband and son. But this is regular Brooklyn, not glitzy, and her snapshots of ordinary life are a treat. She chats to Mohan, who’s working at the bodega. “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”.
She’s a librarian with an academic background, and her old tutor (now hosting a podcast on climate change) hires her to answer podcast correspondence. The listeners’ emails are revealingly fraught or apocalyptic. A podcast guest “…signs off with a small borrowed witticism. ‘Many of us subscribe to the same sentiment as our colleague Sherwood Rowland. He remarked to his wife one night after coming home: “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world.””
The perils of taking too much responsibility for others are teased out: Lizzie ends up taking a car service (taxi) she can’t really afford too often, as the driver’s business is failing and she doesn’t want him to suffer. How she eventually ends this entanglement is striking.
Offill has spoken candidly about trying to address a huge issue in a short novel. Being in relative denial about the impacts of the climate emergency is a fact of everyday life, so as a reader it’s interesting to watch Lizzie move away from ignoring it and towards acceptance of the situation. I agree with the Guardian interviewer who concluded: “At its core, the story asks: what happens after we start to pay attention?”. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/08/jenny-offill-interview – it was this interview that made me want to read the book, and also prompted me to finally read Stan Cohen’s States of Denial).
Enjoyable and relatable, but also very serious and relevant. A great short read with wisdom and heart.