In this book the characters from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts grow up, get married, have babies, strive, fail, strive again, fail again, take sleeping pills and whisper-fight in the dark….OK, it’s not the Peanuts gang, but there is something in the tone and in the characters of Dept. of Speculation that reminded me strongly of the Peanuts strip at its wisest, most epigrammatic, most Zen.
The novel is a very short read but it lingers long. I read it twice in a row because it felt so good the first time and because, like all small near-perfect things, it’s easy to miss hidden glories at first gulp.
Dept. of Speculation is told from the perspective of a woman whose name we are never told. It covers her early adult to middle-aged years during which she travels, meets and marries ‘the husband’, has a baby, nearly goes demented from lack of sleep and frustrated ambition (she is a writer) and deals in both mad and sane ways with a crisis in her marriage. Not a ground-breaking plot, then, but, my, is it beautiful and funny. Continue reading
This sad and funny masterpiece is about Paul O’Rourke, a hard-working and successful Park Avenue dentist who doesn’t know where he belongs. While working five chairs at once in his insanely busy dental practice he’s also permanently on a look out for that elusive something that could be everything. He’s tried the obvious: a commitment to healthy patients, playing the banjo, streaming movies directly to TV, the Red Sox, golf. Golf had looked promising:
For two months one summer, I thought golf could be everything. For the rest of my life, I thought, I’ll put all my energy into golf, all my spare time, all my passion, and that’s what I did. I don’t think I’ve ever been so depressed.
He knows golf is not the answer when the last ball he ever putts gives him the impression, as it circles the hole, of “my small life draining into the abyss.” (So, no to golf). The Bible was a strong candidate for something that could be everything but Paul had a problem there too:
I never made it past all the talk about the firmament. The firmament is the thing, on Day 1 or 2, that divides the waters from the waters. Here you have the firmament. Next to the firmament, the waters. Stay with the waters long enough, presumably you hit another stretch of the firmament. I can’t say for sure: at the first mention of the firmament I start bleeding tears of terminal boredom. I grow restless. I flick ahead. It appears to go like this: firmament, superlong middle part, Jesus.