Book Review: You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
As I have said before, one of my favorite books is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. It is truly one of the best modern retelling of a classic, but it also is just a fun and witty book in its own right. I have read two other Curtis Sittenfeld books, Prep and American Wife. I read Prep in college and remember not enjoying it that much. I think it was because I went to a boarding school. My school was part day, part boarding, and I think I have a hard time reading books about boarding school because it always seems a little far-fetched from my own experience. But I think I need to reread Prep and see if I have a different view now being over 10 years removed from that environment. I also read American Wife either in college or right after. American Wife is a fictionalized story of Laura Bush. I really love Laura Bush and respect all of her literacy work and the fact that she was a librarian. So I was skeptical of the premise, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. While Prep and American Wife were maybe not the best premises for me, I do really enjoy Sittenfeld’s style of writing and was anxious to try her newest work. You Think It, I’ll Say It is the new short story collection from Curtis Sittenfeld. This is actually the first short story collection I have read outside of school. Most of Sittenfeld’s stories about white women in their thirties and forties, with the exception of a few, who are all struggling with different issues, whether it be marital problems, jealousy, motherhood, or unresolved childhood issues.
My favorite story was “Bad Latch”. It is about new moms and the unfortunate judgment between moms. Gretchen is in the protagonist’s prenatal yoga class and is very vocal about her natural birth plan and how what she is doing is the best (and only) choice for her baby and body. The protagonist keeps running into Gretchen as both of their daughters are born and start to grow, but Gretchen acts like she doesn’t know her. But as things in the protagonist’s life start to change, she runs into Gretchen again, and we learn that for all of Gretchen’s posturing, things didn’t go the way she thought they would. I just love how Sittenfeld uses a short story of roughly 8 pages to address the issue of mothers judging other mothers for different parenting choices. She basically boils the story down to that we all need to cut each other a little slack and parents, especially mothers, are just trying to do the best they can.
Another story that is getting a lot of buzz is “The Prairie Wife”. Roxane Gay specifically called out “The Prairie Wife” in her Goodreads review. The Prairie Wife is the moniker of Lucy Headrick, an old friend of Kirsten’s. The Prairie Wife has her own cooking television show and has built an empire on being a wholesome mother and wife. But Kirsten knows that Lucy is living a lie. Lucy and Kirsten worked at a summer camp together while in college; Lucy was an outspoken lesbian, and she and Kirsten hooked up all summer. Kirsten is now married with two children, but spends an insane amount of time following Lucy’s social media accounts and interviews. Her whole life seems to revolve around Lucy and how she can expose Lucy for the fraud that Kirsten thinks she is. Lucy’s public persona reminded me as kind of a mix of Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) and Joanna Gaines. “The Prairie Wife” seems like a public service announcement for how reliant we have become on social media. This is one story that will stick with you for a while and make you second-guess your internet-stalking habits.
My other favorite story was “Plausible Deniability”. William is a forty-something bachelor lawyer, who frequently runs with his brother Mark. William goes over to Mark’s house a few times a week to visit with Mark, Mark’s wife Libby, and their two sons. We know William has been exchanging emails with a woman about classical music for several months, but we find out that it is actually Libby. At first the emails were very personal, but in order to keep it above board, Libby mandates that they only discuss classical music. However, the highlight of each of their days is the email from the other. What starts off as an innocent communication quickly turns into a muddled, grey area. And as Libby says, “Sure, marriages come in all shapes and sizes, but if one person is getting close to someone else, either both parts of the couple have to know and be on board or else it’s a betrayal.” I think that is a perfect rule of thumb to keep people from straying too far outside of their own marriage.
In almost all of the stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, the characters are extremely unlikable and downright flawed. But even while I cringed in most of the stories and questioned humanity, I admire Sittenfeld’s realistic characters and her adherence to write about difficult issues in a subtle way. It is a testament to how great of a writer Sittenfeld that she immediately captures you within the first paragraph or so of these short stories.
I adored my first short story collection and definitely look forward to trying more out. One of the books on my unread shelf is Tom Hanks’ short story collection, Uncommon Type. Now that I've tried one short story collection, I’ll definitely be reading that sometime this year. Curtis Sittenfeld is a phenomenal writer, and I cannot wait to read more of her work. I give You Think It, I’ll Say It 4 stars.
What other short story collections would you recommend?