CURTIS SITTENFELD is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, will be published in 2018. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.

REVIEW: YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT

REVIEW:  YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY ITYou Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Also by this author: Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice
four-stars
Published by Transworld Digital on May 3, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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.

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.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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.

four-stars

About Curtis Sittenfeld

CURTIS SITTENFELD is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, will be published in 2018. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun Makeover

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld gives ‘Pride and Prejudice’ a Fresh and Fun MakeoverEligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Also by this author: You Think It, I'll Say It
four-half-stars
Series: The Austen Project #4
Published by Random House on April 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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.

Synopsis from Goodreads: From the “wickedly entertaining” (USA Today) Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife, comes a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century.

This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving. Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.

My review: 

Prior to requesting Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible from Netgalley, I was completely unfamiliar with the Austen Project, in which six prominent modern-day authors have been tasked with giving contemporary makeovers to Jane Austen’s classic novels.  Because I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since I first read Pride and Prejudice in high school, I was immediately intrigued by the project and eager to see what kind of modern spin these authors would put on some of my beloved favorites.

I’m happy to report that Eligible, Sittenfeld’s modern take on Pride and Prejudice, did not disappoint.  For those who are familiar with the original classic, Eligible preserves its main characters, primary storylines, satirical elements, as well as its overriding themes:   Mrs. Bennet is still obsessed with finding suitable husbands for her five daughters to marry, and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett again steal the spotlight as they verbally spar their way from hate at first sight to eventual true love.

In spite of the many similarities to Pride and Prejudice, however, Sittenfeld skillfully infuses Eligible with enough modern elements and unexpected plot twists to keep her story fresh and hilariously entertaining rather than simply a rehash of the original.

Highlights for me:

There were so many things I loved about this book that it’s impossible to name them all. The contemporary spin on the Liz/Darcy storyline is a given, but here are some of my other favorites:

The Americanized setting.  Swapping out the English countryside for the suburban landscape of Cincinnati, Ohio gave the original storyline an instant facelift, as did replacing fancy dress balls and strolls around formal English gardens with barbecues and jogs around the block.  The change in scenery was instantly relatable, and of course, there was the added amusement of learning that our oh-so-dignified Mr. Darcy was a big fan of Cincinnati chili.

The aging  of the Bennet sisters.  Since it would have been somewhat old-fashioned to be worried about twentysomethings and the danger of spinsterhood, Sittenfeld deftly updates both the ages of the Bennet sisters as well as the driving forces behind Mama Bennet’s desire to find them all men.  Eldest daughter Jane is now 40, with Liz not too far behind her at 38, so the relevant issue at hand for them, Jane in particular, is fertility.  If they want to have children, they had better get busy.

For the younger three Bennet sisters, the issue is more just about having them grow up and start fending for themselves.  Here, Sittenfeld has woven into her narrative a powerful, albeit humorous, criticism of millennials, and particularly of what she refers to as the ‘boomerang effect’ when the grown children return home to live with their parents.  Even though all five Bennet sisters are grown women, only two of them, Jane and Liz, have moved out of their parents’ home and secured careers for themselves.  Kitty, Lydia, and Mary have instead chosen to remain living at home and behaving like children.  They do absolutely nothing to help out around the house either through monetary contributions or by helping to care for their father when his health declines.  Instead of needing husbands, what these three girls need is a swift kick in the pants to get them out of their parents’ home and living independently.

Read more

four-half-stars

About Curtis Sittenfeld

CURTIS SITTENFELD is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her first story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, will be published in 2018. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.