Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill is the proud owner of a dog named Jetta, who likes to chew up dollar bills. She wrote the picture books 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore, a Parenting Best Book of the Year, and 11 Experiments that Failed, described by Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, as “a most joyful and clever whimsy.” She is also the author of the adult novels Last Things and Dept. of Speculation. She lives in upstate New York. Visit her website here.

 
 
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DEPT. OF SPECULATION (2014) 

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation can be read in a single sitting, but there are enough bracing emotional insights in these pages to fill a much longer novel.

“Clever, subtle, and rife with strokes of beauty, this book is both readable in a single sitting and far ranging in the emotions it raises . . . Offill has equal parts cleverness and erudition, but it’s her language and eye for detail that make this a must-read.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Exquisitely honed and vibrant . . . The reader easily identifies with [the narrator’s] struggles and frustrations . . . An enlightened choice for a reading group.”Library Journal

“If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel, it might look something like this . . . Lyrical . . . Philosophically rich . . . Moments of literary experimentation worthy of Virginia Woolf.”Kirkus

“Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation resembles no book I’ve read before. If I tell you that it’s funny, and moving, and true; that it’s as compact and mysterious as a neutron; that it tells a profound story of love and parenthood while invoking (among others) Keats, Kafka, Einstein, Russian cosmonauts, and advice for the housewife of 1896, will you please simply believe me, and read it?”—Michael Cunningham

Dept. of Speculation is gorgeous, funny, a profound and profoundly moving work of art. Jenny Offill is a master of form and feeling, and she gets life on the page in new, startling ways.”—Sam Lipsyte

“A heartbreaking and exceptional book by a writer who doesn’t settle for less—I’ve been longing for a new novel from Jenny Offill since her stunning Last Things, and it was worth every bit of the wait. Sad, funny, philosophical, at once deeply poetic and deeply engaging, this is a brilliant, soulful elegy to the hardships and joys of married life.”—Lydia Millet

“Dept. of Speculation is a deep, funny, and beautifully written novel. It is a moving and intelligent story of a specific marriage, but it is also very much about how it feels to be alive right now. Jenny Offill perfectly captures the absurdities and ironies of our moment.”—Dana Spiotta
 

Rights: Knopf, North America; DVA, Germany; Calmann Levy, France; Novo Conceito, Brazil; Granta/Portobello, UK; Domingo, Turkey; De Geus, the Netherlands; Libros del Asteroide, Spain; NN Editore, Italy; Natur & Kultur, Sweden; Inaque, Slovakia; Relogio d’Agua, Portugal; Korea, Mujintree; Catalan, Ara Llibres; Norway, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag; Denmark, Gyldendal Dans

 
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LAST THINGS (2014)

Grace's father believes in science and builds his daughter a dollhouse with lights that really work. Grace's mother takes her skinny-dipping in the lake and teaches her about African hyena men who devour their wives in their sleep. Grace's world, of fact and fiction, marvels and madness, is slowly unraveling because her family is coming apart before her eyes. Now eight-year-old Grace must choose between her two very different, very flawed parents, a choice that will take her on a dizzying journey, away from her home in Vermont to the boozy, flooded streets of New Orleans—and into the equally wondrous and frightening realm of her own imagination.

With eloquence and compassion, Jenny Offill weaves a luminous story of a wounded family and of a young girl yearning to understand the difference between fiction, fact, and hope. A novel of vibrant imagination and searing intelligence, Last Things is a stunning literary achievement.

“Last Things mines an interval of childhood before the division of intellectual labor. In this state of innocence, science, philosophy, mythology, bunk, wonder, and sorrow are all one. Jenny Offill's complicated and arresting farewell to this dangerous time is compelling as few recent novels on the subject have been."—Rick Moody

“If Last Things means things that will last, then Offill's book is one of them."—New York Times Book Review

"
Offill's debut is a rare feat of remarkable constraint and nearly miraculous construction of a most unique family. "—Publishers Weekly

Rights: Vintage, North America; Bloomsbury, UK; S. Fischer, Germany; NN Editore, Italy; De Geus, The Netherlands

 
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MONEY CHANGES EVERYTHING (2007)

Anthology edited with Elisa Schappell.

Ours is a culture of confession, yet money remains a distinctly taboo subject for most Americans. In this riveting anthology, a host of celebrated writers explore the complicated role money has played in their lives, whether they’re hiding from creditors or hiding a trust fund. This collection will touch a nerve with anyone who’s ever been afraid to reveal their bank balance.

In these wide-ranging personal essays, Daniel Handler, Walter Kirn, Jill McCorkle, Meera Nair, Henry Alford, Susan Choi, and other acclaimed authors write with startling candor about how money has strengthened or undermined their closest relationships. Isabel Rose talks about the trials and tribulations of dating as an heiress. Tony Serra explains what led him to take a forty-year vow of poverty. September 11 widow Marian Fontana illuminates the heartbreak and moral complexities of victim compensation. Jonathan Dee reveals the debt that nearly did him in. And in paired essays, Fred Leebron and his wife Katherine Rhett discuss the way fights over money have shaken their marriage to the core again and again.

We talk openly about our romantic disasters and family dramas, our problems at work and our battles with addiction. But when it comes to what is or is not in our wallets, we remain determinedly mum. Until now, that is. Money Changes Everything is the first anthology of its kind—an unflinching and on-the-record collection of essays filled with entertaining and enlightening insights into why we spend, save, and steal.
The pieces in Money Changes Everything range from the comic to the harrowing, yet they all reveal the complex, emotionally charged role money plays in our lives by shattering the wall of silence that has long surrounded this topic.

"Artists cover their well-heeled tracks for fear of appearing inauthentic, up-and-comers spend too much to bed sophisticated women and, along the way, the reader learns that talking about money is actually just talking about life. Which isn't such a big deal, is it?"—Publishers Weekly

Contributors include: Daphne Merkin, Susan Choi, Heidi Julavits, Walter Kirn, etc.

Rights: Doubleday, North America

 

THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY (2005)

Anthology edited with Elissa Schappell. 

The editors appeared on the Today show and NPR’s Fresh Air.

Losing a friend can be as painful and as agonizing as a divorce or the end of a love affair, yet it is rarely written about or even discussed. The Friend Who Got Away  is the first book to address this near-universal experience, bringing together the brave, eloquent voices of writers like Francine Prose, Katie Roiphe, Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Strout, Ann Hood, Diana Abu Jabar, Vivian Gornick, Helen Schulman, and many others. Some write of friends who have drifted away, others of sudden breakups that took them by surprise. Some even celebrate their liberation from unhealthy or destructive relationships. Yet at the heart of each story is the recognition of a loss that will never be forgotten. 

From stories about friendships that dissolved when one person revealed a hidden self or moved into a different world, to tales of relationships sabotaged by competition, personal ambition, or careless indifference, The Friend Who Got Away casts new light on the meaning and nature of women’s friendships. Katie Roiphe writes with regret about the period in her life when even close friends seemed expendable compared to men and sex. Mary Morris reveals how a loan led to the unraveling of a lifelong friendship. Vivian Gornick explores how intellectual differences eroded the bond between once inseparable companions. And two contributors, once best friends, tell both sides of the story that led to their painful breakup.

Written especially for this anthology and touched with humor, sadness, and sometimes anger, these extraordinary pieces simultaneously evoke the uniqueness of each situation and illuminate the universal emotions evoked by the loss of a friend.

“Rife with the passion and pain, the sadness and glory and startling depths of women's friendships, this book will grab you and shake you and spit you out, awed and chastened. But not before you’ve read every word.”Cathi Hanauer, editor of The Bitch in the House

“An intense, intelligent collection of first-person accounts by women who analyze and mourn friendships lost.”—Time Out New York

“These tales are truly heartwarming and heartbreaking. Which pretty much describes the too often fleeting nature of friendship.”Daily Candy

The Friend Who Got Away . . . reveals women to be thoughtful and kind, sometimes callous and neglectful, like all humans.”—New York Times Book Review

Rights: Doubleday, North America; Seoul Books, Korea; Morning Star Publishing, Chinese Complex Characters; Japan; Milim Publishers, Israel; First serial to five national women’s magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine; Glamour; and Good Housekeeping

 
 

PICTURE BOOKS:

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SPARKY, illustrations by Chris Appelhans (2014)

Sparky is a sloth.
A pet sloth.
And sloths don’t know how to fetch.
Or rollover.
But they sure know how to play dead.
What’s an eager pet owner to do?

The ingenious author of 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore and a brilliant illustrator and production designer of the Coraline movie have created a hilarious, touching picture book perfect for young animal lovers. Like the Caldecott Medal-winning Officer Buckle and Gloria, Sparky stars a pet who has more to offer than meets the eye. When our narrator orders a sloth through the mail, the creature that arrives isn't good at tricks or hide-and-seek . . . or much of anything. Still, there's something about Sparky that is irresistible.

"With apologies to Eric Carle, this is the best damn sloth-related picture book I have ever read."—School Library Journal

"
Offill and Appelhans have created quite a perfect package. The text is spare yet amusing and full of important messages presented in the most subtle of ways. Appelhans, whose career up to now has been in animated films such as Coraline, is a revelation. The enticing watercolor-and-pencil art, mostly in soft shades of browns and burgundies and featuring the artist’s hand lettering, captures a range of emotions, at least from the humans. Furry, flat-nosed Sparky, on the other hand, just is, and that, as it turns out, is enough"—Booklist, starred review

Chris Appelhans once had a portly Labrador mutt named Libby whom people sometimes mistook for a pet pig. He is an illustrator and artist for animated feature films, including Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Princess and the Frog. This is his first children’s book. He lives in Los Angeles.

Rights: Schwartz & Wade, North America; Orion, UK; Aladin, Germany; Jiangsu Phoenix Fine Arts Publishing House, China;Circonflexe, France; Bomnamu, Korea

 

11 EXPERIMENTS THAT FAILED, illustrations by Nancy Carpenter (2011)

“This is a most joyful and clever whimsy, the kind that lightens the heart and puts a shine on the day,” raved Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

Is it possible to eat snowballs doused in ketchup—and nothing else—all winter? Can a washing machine wash dishes? By reading the step-by-step instructions, kids can discover the answers to such all-important questions along with the book’s curious narrator. Here are 12 “hypotheses,” as well as lists of “what you need,” “what to do,” and “what happened” that are sure to make young readers laugh out loud as they learn how to conduct science experiments (really!).

"This is a most joyful and clever whimsy, the kind that lightens the heart and puts a shine on the day. Go ahead, break a few dishes in the washing machine, see the humor and enjoy this fine poke at every science fair that ever was."—Kirkus, starred review

Rights: Schwartz & Wade/Random House, North America

 
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17 THINGS I’M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE, illustrations by Nancy Carpenter (2006)

This Parenting Magazine Best Book of the Year and Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book of the Year features a kid full of fun ideas. For example, in the morning, gluing her brother's bunny slippers to the floor sounds like a good plan. But now she's not allowed to use glue anymore. And what about when she shows Joey Whipple her underpants—they're only underpants, right? Turns out she's not allowed to do that again, either. And isn't broccoli the perfect gift for any brother? It's just too bad her parents don't think so. But she has the last laugh in this humerous picture book about not-so-great behavior. And don't miss the companion book to 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore: 11 Experiments that Failed, a zany exploration of the scientific method by everyone's favorite troublemaking protagonist.

"Ingenious artwork–a flawless marriage of digital imagery and pen-and-ink–is indisputably the focus of this winning title... Some picture books are overconceptualized, overdesigned, and generally overdone, but this one is just about picture-perfect."—School Library Journal

Rights: Schwartz & Wade/Random House, North America; Publishing House Openkid, Korea; Livros Horizonte, Portugal