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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

You Think It, I'll Say It: Stories

Curtis Sittenfeld is a darling in my eyes (her writing, I mean...I haven't actually met her, although I have no doubt she is lovely). I requested a review copy of her new book of short stories, You Think It, I'll Say It, with high hopes. I was not disappointed.

A newly single woman attends an academic conference only to make a decision that seemed like a good idea at the time. A happily married woman decides to have an affair with a family friend. A college student chooses a new friend unwisely. A new mom experiences the superiority of the perfectly coiffed pregnant goddess in her yoga class. An emotionally distant man enjoys single life save for the one secret woman he electronically communicates with about their shared love of classical music. A former magazine writer takes her new baby across the country with her to interview a celebrity, only to realize that her old dreams don't fit with her new life. A married mother despises the celebrity chef who used to sleep with her at camp years ago, who knows a secret that she longs to share with the world.

Short stories are hit and miss with me. Sometimes they miss the mark; sometimes they are absolutely everything. I have found that I particularly prefer female short story writers, and Sittenfeld fits into this mold. I was completely taken with this lot of stories and Sittenfeld's ever changing literary voice. She has a knack for finding the exact tone for her characters regardless of their age or gender, and it took practically no time for me to completely buy in to the plots of the individual stories. Reading her work was like eating a lemon cake with buttercream frosting -- it was light enough that I could eat three pieces, but rich enough that I could savor every bite while wondering how on earth something could taste so good. (This is also one of my highest complements, as this dessert combination is my life.)

There is so much I want to talk to you about each individual story, but I don't want to give you any spoilers because it's such a lovely book that you need to read it yourself. I found myself laughing out loud because Sittenfeld knows people at their basest human needs and desires, and she writes her characters and her stories to evoke this understanding. I think that's what makes her writing so accessible while still being something that you feel pleased to be given. There is a twist at the end of "The Prairie Wife," the story of the celebrity chef, that is so subtle that it was solidly brilliant. Not just good -- seamless. I found myself enraptured by "Off the Record," and the journalist who goes to interview a now-famous actress for a second time only to find herself with leaking boobs and losing the scoop. In "Volunteers Are Shining Stars," I loved the narrator although she was a terribly unlikable person. It was astounding, really, that I pulled for her even as she is jealously trying to ruin another person.

I often can't decide whether or not I like having an end to my short stories, because I love the ambiguity of a lack of ending but at the same time I want to punch someone for not knowing what happens to the characters. The most incredible part of Sittenfeld's stories was that I never got an official ending to anyone's story, but ultimately it doesn't matter because it was clear to me that I was just taking a small peek into these characters' lives for a small snippet of time. Even though I felt that I knew them deeply and intimately by the time I was halfway through their snippets, it didn't matter that I would never know what came before and what would come next. It reminds me of the question we ask in so many ways for so many reasons -- what makes today different than any other day? Sittenfeld takes just a moment from these lives and gives it to us to tell us why today is different than any other day in their lives, and their lives only. So when the stories end, they just end. I didn't feel like I needed more -- I finished very satisfied -- but by no means were ends wrapped up. Their lives would move on, and I will meet them again someday. (Right? RIGHT, CURTIS?)

Sittenfeld is one hell of a short story writer, and I would love to see more of this out of her. I love the rest of her work as well, and I may actually pull Prep now to read it earlier than I had planned, but I think this may very well be my favorite piece of her work. I'm completely blown away and in love with this collection. 

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