Jenny Offill's 'Weather' Offers Comic Twist To Modern Cli-fi

Feb 17, 2020

Lizzie the librarian has a long list of worries -- her drug addict brother; cranky professors lining up at the help desk; her bum knee; the end of the world. She is the narrator behind Jenny Offill’s newest novel, “Weather,” a slender but powerful book that reads like a collection of random thoughts but so accurately reflects the fragmented, Twitter-inspired mindset of our modern times.

When the novel opens in near-present New York, Lizzie accepts a side gig answering emails for her mentor, Sylvia, whose climate podcast “Hell and High Water” has flooded her inbox with questions from hippies and evangelical end-timers. While navigating the onslaught of daily life, Lizzie contemplates larger issues:

“The guy in the Gore-Tex jacket was going on and on about transhumanism and how we would soon shed these burdensome bodies and become part of the singularity,” Sylvia tells her. “These people long for immortality but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee.”

“Weather” sparkles with witty observations even as it tackles the global issue of climate change. Lizzie researches strategies for surviving the impending apocalypse. She describes how to make a lamp from a piece of string and a can of oil-packed tuna: “Your new oil lamp will burn for almost two hours and the tuna will still be good to eat afterward,” she explains. Well, that makes us feel better.

This is one of those books you read with a highlighter in hand -- so many snippets to share with friends. Offill’s novel could be described as comic cli-fi, if there is such a thing. As her main character weathers the 2016 election, it also dips into political commentary, drawing comparisons between our ultra-partisan domestic chaos and the literal storms that threaten the earth. In the end, her shrewd observations offer hope amid our impending doom.

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