Jenny Offill has written a grandiose novel that captures the moods of the American present like no other: climate fear, gender debates, identity politics, Trumpism. It’s about Lizzie trying to find her way between these extremities. Offill, who teaches creative writing at the renowned Bard College, has found a tone for her novel that is extremely stressful – and often dissolves in humor. But the atmosphere remains eerie. “Wetter” has received anthemic reviews.
How did you come up with this ingenious title?
My working title was rather melodramatic at first: “Learning to die”, derived from the Montaigne quote “Philosophizing means learning to die”. But that wasn’t the tone I wanted. In the novel, one of the main characters gives a lecture about melting glaciers, someone in the audience gets really angry and shouts: “I don’t care! I want to know what happens to the American weather! ”I find this attitude typical of my country: that nothing we do is related to the rest of the world. I wanted to call the book “American Weather” for a while, but after Trump was elected there were a number of books that had something with “America” in their title. In English there is also the verb “to weather”, it means “to survive”, even if a little battered.
In German, “wettern” is a synonym for rant. The angry man in the novel did just that.
In this case we also speak of “thunder” in German.
Of course you do.
Isn’t there “to thunder” also in English?
You can have a “thunderous voice”, but as a verb it would of course also be nice.
Your book is about the impending premonition that terrible things are about to happen or are about to happen. Is that how it is in America today?
We are in a state of permanent mixed feelings. While writing, I thought a lot about the word “horror” and asked myself what that actually means when something feels “atmospheric”? We use the word very often now. While writing, I felt this subliminal horror the whole time. The last time it felt like this after September 11th. But as for the mixed feelings, it also brings out the generous sides in you, a nice kind of humility, when you realize that we’re not the only people in the world who matter. It’s scary how much everything is interrelated, but it’s also really amazing. It was rather scary in the corona pandemic.
How the weather changes in your main character can be felt from side to side. She even comes under preppers who prepare for the event of a downfall.
A lot of people go through such a prepper phase when they realize how serious it is about the climate: Where should I go? What should I do if it continues like this? But humans have never survived with the attitude. To my ears, the rhetoric of the climate movement does not sound particularly convincing when it comes to “hope”. It won’t be the prophetic, imploring speeches, but the humble, humble work of partnering with neighbors to figure out how to help your community in the event of a disaster. Lizzie has friends and contacts everywhere.
So does the novel end with the idea of the collective?