Dept. of Speculation made me think about music, specifically music used in TV shows and movies. You know how some shows use music obtrusively as a way to tell the viewer how to feel? And how obnoxious that is? While other shows are far more minimalist, using music sparingly and assuming the viewers can figure out their own responses to the show without beating them over the head with it. A good example of the latter, which I can't find online, is the opening of the very first episode of The Walking Dead, when what turns out to be one of the main characters is shown walking dazedly through a scene of destruction. There appears to be no other life. Everything is silent, except for the normal outdoors sounds, birds, etc. A crappy production would swell ominous music, telling us: Be afraid! Be very afraid! The world is not as it seems! But the Dead folks figured the audience would be smart enough to feel the tension with no music, and ultimately, it made it even creepier.
Dept. of Speculation has nothing to do with zombies, but I think it's a shining example of a how to be very minimalistic in your text and get maximum response from your reader. Author Jenny Offill doesn't waste a single word in this short (177 pages) book. She doesn't need to force her readers to emotion and tell them what to think. Her characters are briefly drawn, yet realistic, flawed, and complex. And when bad things happen to them, it hurts. An exchange between a husband and wife, when the wife finds out the husband is seeing someone else:
Easier, he says."
It's a short book with a large world, looking at parenting and life expectations and what happens when the marriage doesn't turn out to be all you think it should. Or the wry wistfulness that comes with growing older:
"How has she become one of those people who wears yoga pants all day? She used to make fun of those people. With their happiness maps and their gratitude journals and their bags made out of recycled tire treads. But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make un of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be."
Lovely, understated, simple-but-complex book.