The One with the Stories we tell ourselves

Curtis Sittenfeld, You Think It, I’ll Say It (2017)

I’ve always wished that I read more short stories collection, and for all the ways 2020 is a monumental failure, at least I’m not failing at this one goal. In fact, short stories are an easy way to dip my toes into authors, genres or environments I don’t want to commit for a long novel. Except that this reasoning was not really true for this one collection: I already know Curtis Sittenfeld, I enjoyed her previous novels American Wife and Prep (read a lifetime ago! thanks WordPress for keeping my memories!) and I was just curious to read anything by her.

Although I do love short stories, I don’t enjoy reviewing them, because it’s always a mixed bag, and there’s not always an unifying theme. In this case, the title story gives a hint: we witness the inner thoughts of many protagonists (new mother trying to keep her journalism gig, a successful female lawyer, a shy student, a social justice volunteer, a brother-in-law…) and we witness the gap between these mulling thoughts and the reality of actions or communications.

Sittenfeld’s characters judge themselves and others harshly, and more often than not, the truth is far from what they expect. A lot of these situations are rather ordinary and the stories may seem a bit too simple (a pregnant woman watches someone in her breastfeeding support group and makes assumptions about her – I remember being in that situation many years ago!), but in the end they are quite effective at conveying emotions, especially the subtle one that comes when you understand that you misjudged a situation. Sometimes it’s sadness, sometimes frustration or anger, and sometimes it’s also growth pain, and you see these characters become wiser from this realization.

The collection references Trump 2016 election twice, and to me it was not really necessary. Sittenfeld’s characters are mostly upper-middle class white women, university-educated and leaning far away from Trump’s supporter base. For all the tiny, mundane misunderstandings and judgments that those characters go through, no wonder that they also might misunderstand and judge people who are socially, culturally and politically far away from them. Still, I don’t think it was the point of Sittenfeld’s collection, and I enjoyed all of these stories just like they are, as instant portraits of flawed people.

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