You think it, I'll say it Stories

Curtis Sittenfeld

Book - 2018

"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."--Dust jacket.

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Short stories
New York : Random House [2018]
First edition
Physical Description
226 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Curtis Sittenfeld (author)
  • Gender studies
  • The world has many butterflies
  • Vox Clamantis in deserto
  • Bad latch
  • Plausible deniability
  • A regular couple
  • Off the record
  • The prairie wife
  • Volunteers are shining stars
  • Do-over.
Review by New York Times Review

STORY COLLECTIONS from novelists sometimes give readers the sense that the author has dug up several half-finished, long-abandoned works from graduate school, dusted them off, revived them, then cauterized them with an ending. This is not the case in "You Think It, I'll Say It," a new book of short fiction by Curtis Sittenfeld; but as if to dispatch even the possibility of that impression, the first story, "Gender Studies," is placed squarely in the context of the most recent presidential election. "There's no way Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president," Nell, an academic, tells a Kansas City cabdriver who is dropping her at her hotel. That misguided assumption turns out to be the first of many she makes over the course of the evening she ultimately spends with the driver: It takes longer than it should for her to realize she has both been misled and done some misleading of her own. Nell is sympathetic, insomuch as she is at least aware of her own smugness (which, at its worst, takes the form of bad faith). The characters in Sittenfeld's novels are often redeemed by their self-criticism; however flawed their behavior, they have the good sense to be riddled with selfdoubt about it. Her female characters in particular examine, worry over and question their own dispositions. "And underneath all the decorum, isn't most everyone judgmental and disappointed?" wonders Hannah Gravener, the judgmental and disappointed narrator of "The Man of My Dreams." "Or is it only certain people, and can she choose not to be one of them - can she choose this without also, like her mother, just giving in?" Hannah is the kind of person who frets, while taking in the grandeur of Alaska, about the way that "thoughts about how small you are always feel small themselves." A psychic young mother who narrates Sittenfeld's "Sisterland" is uncomfortable with her powers, as if they were mostly a crippling embarrassment. In "Prep," Sittenfeld's blockbuster debut, she portrayed a middle-class young woman attending an elite boarding school, someone self-conscious about being self-conscious. Even the lovely but traumatized Alice Lindgren, a stand-in for Laura Bush in her novel "American Wife," observes with fascination her husband and his brother's crass bathroom humor, which betrays the privileged swagger of the blissfully oblivious. Especially in her earlier work, Sittenfeld's young women do not exactly resent the relative ease with which others - the beautiful, or the moneyed, or the innately, effortlessly good - seem to navigate the world; they study their ways, quixotically, tormented by those qualities or behaviors they don't understand. This collection is Sittenfeld's sixth book; the adolescents of her earlier work have grown up, with adulthood yielding decidedly mixed results. In "The World Has Many Butterflies," that type of young woman - the kind who cracks wise from a crouched position - is now a suburban Houston housewife who has fallen into a world of aspirational child rearing. Without an appreciative audience for the mostly damning asides of her internal monologues, she falls for the first man who seems attuned to them, confusing an open ear with erotic interest: "She was simultaneously shocked by the conversation, shocked to be having it with a man, shocked by its effortlessness, and not surprised at all; it was as if she'd been waiting to be recognized, as if she'd never sung in public, then someone had handed her a microphone and she'd opened her mouth and released a full-throated vibrato." In this collection, Sittenfeld occasionally swerves from the female point of view to the male who, elsewhere in her fiction, is usually the object of so much obsessive rumination. In "Do-Over," following Trump's election, a divorced financier resolves to apologize to an old female friend about a moment of sexism that gave him an unfair advantage over her in a student election back at boarding school. He is surprised when the woman, who had a crush on him as a teenager, does not forgive his late-tothe-game moral awakening. Over the course of a dinner out, she turns so hostile it is almost exhilarating, the good girl, the brainy girl, for once saying exactly what she thinks. (The story, like the first in the collection, summons the spirit of Lorrie Moore's perfect "You're Ugly, Too.") "Isn't it weird how I was tormented asa teenager by a person who grew up into a banker who talks incessantly about his Fitbit?" she asks her former classmate, who is mild, earnest and no longer smoking hot. "Did I offend you? ... I didn't mean to. I was trying to be factual." In the lives of Sittenfeld's characters, the lusts and disappointments of youth loom large well into middle age, as insistent as a gang of loud, showy teenagers taking up all the oxygen in the room. A married woman is obsessed with an ex-girlfriend from summer camp who became a wholesome megabrand known as "The Prairie Wife" (also the name of the story); in "A Regular Couple," a famous defense attorney who has just married is plagued by an encounter with the popular girl from her high school, who is also honeymooning at the same resort. Some of the stories grant the possibility that the characters have grown in the intervening years, and grown softer, more generous; others suggest, more spikily, that there is no hope of leaving behind what was painful, or of recovering what was good. These storytellers are, for the most part, a privileged, educated lot. Their trials, in the grand scheme of things, are manageable enough that they allow easily for comedy, which Sittenfeld is a pro at delivering in the details (the smug academic's cat is named Converse, "not for the shoe but for the political scientist"). But Sittenfeld doesn't shy away from poking at the soft spots of a person's psyche, the painful longings for something exquisite to cut through the ennui of even the most comfortable lives. In "Plausible Deniability," an eligible man who can't seem to form meaningful attachments grows reliant on daily emails from a woman conveying her thoughts on classical music: "Being in touch with her offered a cushioning to my days, an antidote to the tedium and indignity of being a person, the lack of accountability of my adulthood." She thinks they are having an emotional affair; he tells himself it is much less. The women of "You Think It, I'll Say It" are, as a group, a demanding breed. They often assume the worst in their imagined adversaries. Sometimes they are wrong, but they are right about just enough (and funny enough) that we forgive them. And, because they know they need absolution for their own worst motives, we forgive those, too. Clearly the lusts and disappointments of youth loom large well into middle age. SUSAN DOMINUS is a staff writer for The Times Magazine.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 30, 2019] Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Sittenfeld, author of five novels, including American Wife (2008) and Eligible (2016), shares 10 entertaining stories of everyday revelations of the human experience. Strongly voiced women and men try to gauge their place in the order of things and attempt to pin down others' perceptions of them, all in spite of the well-established unpredictability and utter unknowability of absolutely everyone, themselves included. A broke single mom is revived by the opportunity to reinterview a celebrity but not in the way she thought she'd be. In the brilliant The Prairie Wife, married mom Kirsten dedicates herself to hate-reading everything posted on social media by a very famous and very straight TV food celebrity, who happens to also have once been the teen lesbian who deflowered Kirsten while they were co-counselors at sleepaway camp all those years ago. The collection is bookended by consequential conversations between men and women featuring a Trump presidency. Masterfully plotted and often further gilded with mirthful twists, Sittenfeld's short-form works (half of which are published here for the first time) are every bit as smart, sensitive, funny, and genuine as her phenomenally popular novels. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Sittenfeld needs no introduction. Her first short story collection will be celebrated by loads of promotion and an author tour.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In her thoroughly satisfying first collection, Sittenfeld (Eligible) spins magic out of the short story form. Bookended by tales concerning the election of Donald Trump, the collection comfortably situates itself in contemporary America, focusing on female protagonists navigating friendships, family, politics, and social media. In "A Regular Couple," a semifamous defense attorney reconsiders her past after she runs into a high school frenemy also honeymooning at the same resort. In "The Prairie Wife," a woman contemplates whether to make public a bombshell revelation that would ruin the image of a lifestyle celebrity she dated as a teen. Another celebrity story, "Off the Record," places a small-time interviewer in the home of an up-and-coming starlet, with explicit instructions to leave her appointment with juicy details on the starlet's recent breakup. And in "Volunteers Are Shining Stars," perhaps the collection's best entry, a young volunteer at a shelter for mothers and children in Washington, D.C., develops a hatred for a new, bubbly volunteer. As in her novels, Sittenfeld's characters are funny and insightful. Reading these consistently engrossing stories is a pleasure. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Sittenfeld's (Eligible) first short story collection is comprised of ten compelling and unique stories that will draw listeners in with deeply flawed and deeply human characters. From honeymooners and an unhappy housewife to a young volunteer and married acquaintances, Sittenfeld humanizes the seemingly mundane everyday lives of her characters, making them fallible and relatable. The collection is exquisitely narrated by Emily Rankin and Mark Deakins, whose strong, engaging voices perfectly capture the many different personae. Rankin especially exudes charm and vulnerability, making the players even more real and accessible. VERDICT A superbly narrated, standout collection of short stories with mass appeal. ["In crisp, surprising language, these ten stories from novelist Sittenfeld put couples' foibles under the spotlight": LJ 1/18 starred review of the Random hc.]-Erin Cataldi, Johnson Cty. P.L., Franklin, IN © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Ten stories by bestselling novelist Sittenfeld (Eligible, 2016, etc.) probe the fissures beneath the surfaces of comfortable lives.Donald Trump bookends the collection, as an alarming candidate in "Gender Studies" and an upset victor in "Do-Over." His unexpected election suits the characters' sense of the ground shifting underneath them, often due to false assumptions. Sometimes the mistaken ideas are deeply humiliating: The discontented wife in "The World Has Many Butterflies" discovers that the man with whom she's been sharing bitchy assessments of fellow members of their affluent Houston social set is not the soul mate she thought and has been judging her by the conventional standards she believed they both despised. Sometimes they're oddly liberating, as when the annoyingly perky wife and mother in "Bad Latch" proves to have some gumption to back up her chipper proclamations. But even the most positive stories have an undercurrent of unease. The protagonists of "Off the Record" and "The Prairie Wife" feel overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood; it's probably not a coincidence that both are also grappling with mixed feelings about celebrities whose lives seem so much more exciting and important than theirs. Sittenfeld adroitly threads themes of disenchantment and perplexity through a group of stories whose characters, despite their reasonably secure middle-class professional status, share a feeling that their lives haven't turned out the way they expected. Occasionally the plotting can be a little pat. The predictable unmasking of the narrator's secret texting correspondent in "Plausible Deniability" somewhat mars a sad self-portrait of a man painfully aware of his inability to sustain meaningful personal relationships. But in the collection's best stories, such as "Volunteers Are Shining Stars," even a slightly lurid denouement feels true to the protagonist's fierce resistance to points of view that challenge her own closed-off perspective. Sittenfeld's own perspective throughout is compassionate without being sentimental, hopeful without being nave.The way we live now, assessed with rue and grace. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.