I’ve been listening to Jenny Ofill’s Weather this week on my runs. I usually listen to nonfiction (my absolute favorite is the very specific sub-genre of literary memoirs or biographies and if memoir, A++++ if read by the author) because I find it harder to get really engaged with fiction amidst the distraction of street-crossings and traffic on the run.
Here is what I knew about Weather when I started listening: Jenny Ofill also wrote Department of Speculation which I read soon enough after my daughter was born that I was too sleep-deprived to remember it clearly, and that this new book, too, was a fragmented, short, interior novel about motherhood. I knew the book had been much anticipated and sort of divisively-received.
Here is what I did not know: that the title refers to both figurative and literal weather, the literal version both immediate and historic in scale; there are doomsday preppers; the strange culture of mothers-waiting-for-school-pickup is perfectly rendered; Prince Caspian even has a moment.
It’s the Prince Caspian scene I’ve been thinking about a lot. Lizzy, the novel’s narrator, is reading to her son before bed and he realizes before she does that the ruins the kids find at the beginning of the novel is the ruins of Cair Paravel. After they read the scene, he asks his mom if she will die before he does, and she gives him what she calls “that old dodge” and says neither of them will die for a very long time.
The more I read with my kids and as a result re-think the reading I did as a kid, the more I see they’re already seeing, already knowing (or intuiting). Of course a scene depicting a beloved home gone to ruin evokes loss. Isn’t that the whole point of the “Time Passes” section in To The Lighthouse?
The scene at the beginning of Prince Caspian made the hair on my arms stand up when I read it to Thea, but this was also or even mostly a good feeling because it was a feeling as much about recognition as it was about fear and sadness.
Anyway—there’s a lot in Weather that feels relevant and timely and I’m sure that will be disqualifying for some readers. But it also felt like a comforting mix of funny, wry, insightful, and common observations about a certain population of mothers (a population I belong to).