The story is about a woman living in New York City who marries a musician. The nameless woman is a published novelist, but has failed to produce a second book, and is ghost writing a memoir of a cheesy failed astronaut to help pay the bills. Her husband is a musician.
They have a daughter. They get bed bugs in their small NYC apartment. The woman's sister and friends husbands' have affairs.
"She says every marriage is jerry-rigged. Even the ones that look reasonable from the outside are held together inside with chewing gum and wire and string.”
Her husband has an affair. The wife nearly loses her mind. She reads an adultery book, and they go to counseling, which she dubs The Little Theater of Hurt Feelings. They work at reconciliation. They reconcile.
And that's it. But that's SO not it.
One of the measures of a really talented writer, a writer I'll read no matter what s/he is writing about, is one that can describe something in a way no one has before. And that's what Offill does here. She describes this relatively mundane story of a marriage in crisis in a way that's never been done. And that's what makes this novel really notable.
When Offill is telling about the bed bugs, she includes snippets about astronauts feeling trapped and confined to convey how the wife and her husband felt in their apartment. She includes short lines of philosophy to capture a mood. And she includes a description of the German word kummerspeck, which literally means "grief bacon," but is used to describe overeating due to emotional trauma (my favorite part of the novel). She makes jokes, "I have an intern. All of my life now appears to be one happy moment." She includes actual jokes ("Why couldn't the Buddhist vacuum in corners? Because she had no attachments.") She tells anecdotes. She yells at us. She whispers to us. It really is just mesmerizing.
If you've never heard of Offill or this novel, I'd highly recommend it, just for a reading experience you won't find every day. Again, because this is very short, it's rather a low-risk, very high-reward prospect. This is one of the first highly buzzed novels of 2014, and my guess is that you'll find it is, indeed, rewarding.