Also by this author: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
Published by Transworld Digital on May 3, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’m normally not the biggest fan of short stories. Whenever I read one, I always think of it as a teaser for a full-fledged novel that I’d rather be reading. Just when I’m starting to get to know and become invested in character, boom, the story’s over. I’m a big fan of Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, however, so when I heard she had written You Think It, I’ll Say It, a collection of ten short stories, I decided to give them a try, figuring that if any writer out there could change my mind about short stories, it would be Sittenfeld.
What appealed to me the most as I was reading each of these stories is the same thing that always appeals to me when I read anything from Curtis Sittenfeld and that’s the way she is able to get inside of a character’s head and convey everything they’re thinking in such a way that I then can’t get her characters out of my head. They just always leave me with so much to think about, and all 10 main characters in this collection did exactly that. Sittenfeld presents each of these characters’ stories from their individual perspectives so that we’re getting an ongoing internal dialogue from each main character as we’re watching the events of the stories play out. In doing so, Sittenfeld is able to weave several important messages and themes throughout all ten stories so as to make it a cohesive collection.
These themes, in addition to the characters themselves, are what truly kept me engaged. The central theme of the collection is basically that we’re all human and we all mess up, especially when it comes to our relationships with other equally fallible humans. All of Sittenfeld’s characters tend to make assumptions about people, maybe based on how they look or how they act, and more often than not, their assumptions end up being not only wrong, but also flat-out unfair. Her characters are also prone to misinterpreting signals they think other people are giving off, which leads to awkward and embarrassing situations. There were times when I found myself judging them as well, but then a few pages later, I’d think “I could see myself doing the same thing this character has done, so maybe I’ll just shut up and not judge them.” In that sense, even though Sittenfeld soundly criticizes these characters for their erroneous snap judgments, she also makes them sympathetic and relatable. I liked that balance, which she is able to successfully strike with each story.
I also liked that the stories all felt very modern and timely and were filled with Sittenfeld’s trademark insightful social commentary and satire. There’s mention of the Trump administration in at least one of them, gender inequality factors in at times, there is at least one story that focuses on LGBTQ issues, and one that focuses on the challenges of being a working mother.
I won’t go through all ten stories in detail, but I will say that I don’t think there’s a weak story in the entire collection. I definitely had my favorites though, including ‘The Prairie Wife,” where an unhappy housewife, Kirsten, is obsessed with Lucy, a popular celebrity. Kirsten recognizes Lucy, a Martha Stewart-type who is now married with two children and living a conservative lifestyle, as someone she worked with, and had a sexual relationship with, at a summer camp many years ago. Everything about Lucy’s life infuriates Kirsten because she thinks Lucy is now living a lie and Kirsten dreams of using the knowledge she has about her to destroy her. This was such an intense and riveting story and I absolutely loved the unexpected twist at the end.
Another favorite was “The World Has Many Butterflies,” which contains the title of the actual short story collection, “You Think It, I’ll Say It” in it. It turns out “You Think It, I’ll Say It” is the name of a gossip-driven game that two people – Graham and Julie – play every time they see each other. Julie misinterprets why Graham has started playing this game with her and all kinds of awkwardness ensues. I felt secondhand embarrassment for Julie while I was reading this one!
My only issue with this collection was exactly what I feared it might be, that I would become invested enough in the main character from each story, that I would want to hear more from them. Each story is well-crafted and conveys an interesting and relevant theme, but I couldn’t help but think by the end that I would rather have 10 novels from Sittenfeld about these characters than these brief, although beautiful, snippets. I’m going to classify that as a “me” problem though. It has nothing to do with the stories themselves or with Sittenfeld’s writing. She is just such a gifted storyteller that I’ll always want more.
While I can’t say that Curtis Sittenfeld has completely changed my mind about short stories overall, I would still highly recommend this very solid collection of stories to anyone who is interested in reading stories filled with messy and unforgettable characters as well as insightful social commentary about how people read and misread each other. I’d recommend this collection both to those who are new to Curtis Sittenfeld and to those who are long-time fans.
A suburban mother of two fantasizes about the downfall of an old friend whose wholesome lifestyle empire may or may not be built on a lie. A high-powered lawyer honeymooning with her husband is caught off guard by the appearance of the girl who tormented her in high school. A shy Ivy League student learns the truth about a classmate’s seemingly enviable life.
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.
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.