You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld: Appearances can be deceptive

Cover imageI read Curtis Sittenfeld’s The American Wife on holiday quite some time ago and found it hard to drag myself away from. Those who’ve read it will know that the titular wife is loosely based on Laura Bush which certainly added spice to the reading but the quality of Sittenfeld’s writing would have kept me riveted regardless of that. The same acute social observation and smartly delivered writing marks her first short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It.

In the opening piece, ‘The Nominee’, Hillary Clinton wonders why a journalist to whom she’s extended kindness in the most humiliating of circumstances insists on describing her as unlikable. ‘Do-Over’, which caught the Sunday Times Short Story Award judges’ attention, nicely bookends the collection with its examination of gender in the Trump/Clinton contest seen through the lens of two competitors for a student post. Now middle-aged, their reunion takes a surprising turn for the male candidate. In ‘Gender Studies’ a recently single professor finds herself in an unexpected encounter with a cab driver while ‘The Prairie Wife’ sees a woman driving herself into a fury, constantly checking the Twitter feed of an old acquaintance whose online persona is at odds with her past and longing to spill the beans until a very public revelation touches her. Unusually, rather than referring to a story, the collection’s title is the name of a game devised by a man who encourages his colleague’s wife to disparage their friends for his amusement leading to an embarrassing misapprehension on her part in ’The World Has Many Butterflies’.

The overarching theme of these stories is the gulf between our perception of ourselves and other people, and theirs of us. Characters’ initial impressions are often proven entirely, sometimes comically, wrong: the apparently confident girl from high school days turns out to have been wracked with shyness; a naive young student makes a string of social misjudgments happily corrected in later life; a journalist is surprised by a TV star’s apparent assumption of intimacy between them. Often a relationship which begins with suspicion or downright dislike turns into something else so that we re-examine our own prejudices. Gender is firmly to the fore – women and childcare, expectations of female beauty, distribution of domestic chores – all deftly and effectively handled. Sittenfeld’s last novel, Eligible, was a twenty-first century take on Pride and Prejudice which seems entirely appropriate. Her acute observation, neatly skewering modern social mores with sly, occasionally waspish wit, is a match for Jane Austen’s in this intelligent, satisfying collection.

21 thoughts on “You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld: Appearances can be deceptive

  1. Kate W

    I LOVED this book and I think it will make my top books for the year (which is rare for short stories – I usually find a few weak links in a collection, but not so here).

    Reply
  2. Poppy

    Oh, I had this on my radar but after reading her Sunday Times shortlist story, it sort of slipped down the wish list… I thought the premise was great but execution bordered more on snarky than witty for me. I vaguely recall her interview disparaging writing novels built on revenge and thought Ephron would disagree (thinking of Heartburn) BUT trusting your judgement Susan I’ll hoik it back up, as now very curious to read the rest.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Ah, you’ve made me a little nervous, Poppy! It has to be said that I’m not entirely averse to a bit of snark hence the ‘waspish’ in my review. I hope you enjoy them if you do decide to put her back on your list.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Definitely lived up to expectations. I’d also recommend Helen Dumore’s posthmous collection which I’ll be reviewing nearer its publication date in July.

      Reply
  3. Naomi

    There are so many Sittenfeld books I’d like to read – maybe reading her short stories would be the way to go for now!

    Reply
  4. BuriedInPrint

    Oohhh, I am SO looking forward to this one. I’ve read – and enjoyed – all her others. When she read in Toronto for Eligible’s publication, she spoke briefly about working on the Clinton story which is obviously in this volume, so I’m especially curious about that one. But mostly I look forward to the echoes of the theme in the works: it sounds thought-provoking and rewarding.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      She handles that theme so deftly, pulling the rug out from underneath her characters (and readers on occasion) to great effect. I loved the Clinton story.

      Reply

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