Do these two new books — Jenny Offill’s “Weather” and Megan Angelo’s “Followers” — deserve their rapturous reviews? The Reader spills
|Toronto Star 14 Feb 2020 at 11:15|
They’re creating a lot of buzz — but are the books everyone’s talking about (and buying) worth your reading time and money?
Weather, Jenny Offill, Knopf
If you have been paying attention this week, you know that the chattering classes are chattering a lot about this book, a novel about — of all things! — the environment. Author Jenny Offill has achieved the near impossible. She has made grappling with the climate crisis not only important and challenging — but also, a tough assignment, entertaining.
Lizzie is a university librarian (indeed, a “feral librarian,” without an appropriate degree), mother (of curious Eli), wife (of computer-coder Ben, a classics PhD) and sister (of needy Henry, a recovering addict). The story gets going when her former prof, Sylvia, an environmental activist, enlists Lizzie to answer emails from listeners to her podcast, Hell and High Water, all of whom, she explains, are “crazy or depressed.”
So down the Earth’s soil-eroded rabbit hole Lizzie tumbles, soon finding it difficult to respond to letters about the coming chaos with the “obligatory note of hope.” And, like all of us beleaguered humans, in addition to worrying about the planet she must also worry about her life — Eli’s test score, Ben’s happiness, Henry’s sobriety, that painful click in her knee, the acceleration of days, the inevitability of death, and so much more.
That’s it, really. “Weather” is short on plot, long on research culled across millennia. Just as she did in 2014’s warmly received “Dept. of Speculation,” Offill delivers her prose in episodic bursts, alighting on one topic (say, the question of bioengineering humans with cat eyes, with their great night vision, to reduce global energy use) then moving to the next (the superrich are buying land in New Zealand for their doomsteads), then maybe a tip on how to get hours of light from a tin of oil-packed tuna if you run out of candles. Bonus angst: The story is set in 2016, an election year of singular upheaval in itself.
Followers, Megan Angelo, Graydon House
Since its publication last month, “Followers” has developed a robust following, thanks to warm welcomes from Glamour (where author Megan Angelo is a former contributing editor), Marie Claire (it is February’s book pick), Bitch Media (on its’ list of must-read feminist novels) and other women’s magazines. Little wonder. As a journalist, Angelo has immersed herself in issues of popular culture, including women and social media, both of which are at the heart of this clever futuristic tale.
The action toggles between two timelines, near past (2015) and near future (2051). In the former, Orla, a New York blogger at Lady-ish.com (where she makes “a living taking down wheat-dull quotes from glossy somebodies”), joins forces with her new roommate Floss, an aspiring Insta-influencer. Soon Orla is covering Floss’s adventures and mishaps, furthering both their ambitions. The result is Flosston Public, a reality show starring Floss, boyfriend Aston and Orla, the nerd roommate.
The 2051 story focuses on Marlow, a young married woman who grew up in Constellation. Her life is brought to us by Hysteryl (“Think of Hysteryl as an upgrade for your feelings” to create “the happiest, most well-adjusted, most confident generations of Americans ever.”)
Of course, Orla, Floss and Marlow are linked, and before the conclusion of this incisive dystopian novel, we learn more about the ghastly nature of the Spill and the connections that bind these three women.