Hardcover, 223 pagesExpected publication: April 24th 2018 by Random House
Curtis Sittenfeld has established a reputation as a sharp chronicler of the modern age who humanizes her subjects even as she skewers them. Now, with this first collection of short fiction, her “astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads” (The Washington Post) is showcased like never before.
Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided. In “The World Has Many Butterflies,” married acquaintances play a strangely intimate game with devastating consequences. In “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” a shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate’s seemingly enviable life. In “A Regular Couple,” a high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. And in “The Prairie Wife,” a suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle-brand empire may or may not be built on a lie.
With moving insight and uncanny precision, Curtis Sittenfeld pinpoints the questionable decisions, missed connections, and sometimes extraordinary coincidences that make up a life. Indeed, she writes what we’re all thinking–if only we could express it with the wit of a master satirist, the storytelling gifts of an old-fashioned raconteur, and the vision of an American original.
I’m relieved to have aged out of that sense that my primary obligation is to be pretty, relieved to work at a job that allows me to feel useful. Did I used to think being pretty was my primary obligation because I was in some way delusional? Or was it that I’d absorbed the messages I was meant to absorb with the same diligence with which I’d studied?
Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It, is a collection for the grown woman, for the woman who still thinks back on her “youth” and college years with fondness but also with a sense of wonder – is that who I was? Is this who I have become?
This is a smart collection—one that explores the natural irony in our everyday lives. There’s a lot of wistful nostalgia and contemplation in this collection on the feat—the very fact and act—of being pretty: what it means to be “pretty” and how that affects us as adult women.
“I once heard that smart women want to be told they’re pretty and pretty women want to be told they’re smart. And the most depressing part is that I think I agree.”
An upper middle-class woman ponders the boredom and mundane quality of her routine life, only to seek out a thrill that may or may not have already been there from the start (“The World Has Many Butterflies”).
A college student at her dad’s Alma Mater who’s idolized the school for most of her life also starts to idolize one of her college friends—only to find that the friend is just an average, flawed individual like everybody else (“Vox Clamantis in Deserto”).
A young political intern with OCD snaps while volunteering at a shelter for poor urban families (“Volunteers Are Shining Stars”).
And a woman contemplates her near-hate-like jealousy for the reality lifestyle star who was her first lesbian experience way back when (“The Prairie Wife”).
Here would be a great place to say that “Plausible Deniability,” “Off the Record” and “A Regular Couple” were my other favorites. I wasn’t particularly fond of “Gender Studies,” in which a woman misplaces her license and ends up having a sexual encounter with the taxi driver she believes has found the license. I first read this one in The New Yorker in the fall of 2016. There were speculations and allusions from other bloggers that maybe Sittenfeld was offering political commentary on a nation’s identity lost! (I say in my dramatic voice) due to the (imminent) election of Trump, but I didn’t see it. I just took that story at face value and it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a favorite either.
These are just a few of the narratives you’ll find here in this 10-story collection. There were so many times that a story would start and I’d fear it was going down the route of “Everyday Yuppie,” and I cringed. BUT, EVERY time, Sittenfeld pulled the story back from the brink with a twist of irony and humor. After the third or fourth story, I just relaxed into the read and went with it, knowing that the place I’d end up in the end wasn’t where I thought I was going in the beginning. I know I’m not alone when I say that I LOVE being able to trust an author, to trust a narrator, like that. It allows for a phenomenally smooth read and for the reader to have time to become one with the characters, no matter how short the stories are.
This collection ran a gamut of stories that wasn’t necessarily wide but did manage to convey a delightful spectrum of sentiments, emotions and lessons. “Bad Latch” was by far one of my favorite stories, hilariously Yuppie and otherworldly—these sheltered, middle-class moms who spend their days at infant swimming lessons and pregnancy yoga—then the story morphed into something so much more special and resonating:
“It wasn’t that I looked down on parents who put their kids in daycare, it wasn’t that I disapproved of them, or at least if I did disapprove, I knew enough to be embarrassed by my disapproval…Nevertheless, on Sadie’s first day at Green Valley Children’s Center, I didn’t even make it out the front door before I burst into tears. I hadn’t felt that bad about some of the things that women having babies when I did…were supposed to feel bad about—an epidural, formula—but the collapse of my carefully crafted childcare setup seemed like a failure of a different magnitude.”
In You Think It, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld’s distinctive writing style is in full form. It’s casual and conversational, witty and makes for an easy, entertaining read. I also gave her a strong 4 stars for her novel Eligible for this same reason. I blew through about 60% of this collection in one sitting, so well did it flow and move me along with the characters and their ironic contemplative situations. Not only that, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sittenfeld is a true master of showing her reader rather than telling her reader. I got to know so much about her characters simply by watching them in their everyday lives, and she, as the writer, trusted her reader enough to let us figure out what she was trying to say. Each story is set in a different city (all either during or referencing the 1990s) which I thought was a FANTASTIC device, creating a kind of survey of American—well, upperish middle class white American—life. That survey aspect was a real gem, because each story in this collection set up a different dilemma rooted in the same basic question—the question of Who am I, how did I get here, and am I okay with it? None of these stories takes an overly grandiose view of life. No one is living in a sci fi fantasy world of improbable circumstances and star ships. These stories all happen right here on Earth, literally, of course, but more importantly, figuratively. And for me, that’s always a breath of fresh air. A strong 4 stars ****
Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the new novel Eligible, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice (due out April 2016) as well as the bestselling novels Sisterland, American Wife, Prep, and The Man of My Dreams, which have been translated into twenty-five languages. Curtis’s writing has appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, Vanity Fair,Time, Slate, Glamour, and on public radio’s This American Life. A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently lives in St. Louis, MO.