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June 28, 2018

You Think It, I’ll Say It

by Anne Paddock

You realize, don’t you, that you weren’t saying what I thought? You were saying what you thought.

You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of ten short stories written by Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfeld (who goes by Curtis Sittenfeld). Published in 2018, You Think It, I’ll Say It is hard to put down because the stories draw the reader in to the turmoil between what appears to be true and what is actually true.  Personal perspective, as determined by history and experience, is a key part of each story which only reinforces what we all know but sometimes forget:  most of us start out optimistic and naive; life experiences either strengthen us or bring bitterness and disillusionment which means that truth is often subjective.

If you’ve ever had children, then you will relish the story – Bad Latch – about a woman’s encounter with a competitive, opinionated first time mother in a prenatal class.  We’ve all met them and most of us run away as fast as possible but sometimes you can’t escape them and come to believe in karma.

In The Prairie Wife – which made me think of the real-life Pioneer Woman – a mother of two contemplates exposing an old friend whose lifestyle brand is built around wholesomeness and Godliness.  And, in Off The Record the calculating nature of one woman and an unsuspecting foe makes for a great short story.

Marriage and relationships are also common themes in Sittenfeld’s stories. In Gender Studies, a well-educated professor recently abandoned by her long-time partner takes a business trip only to discover there’s another world out there and it’s not that far from her own (If you ever saw the movie, Cedar Rapids, you will understand).  And, in The World Has Many Butterflies, a middle-aged married mom finds unexpected comradery with a  neighbor’s husband while in Plausible Deniability, two brothers – one married with kids and the other, a middle-aged confirmed bachelor – find they each have an interest in the same woman.

In A Regular Couple, Maggie, a successful lawyer on her honeymoon starts to think deeper about her choice in a husband after running into a high school acquaintance who tormented her years ago. And, in Vox Clamantis, the narrator is a young woman looking back at close friendships she experienced at Dartmouth and how those relationships affected her.

Sittenfeld’s strength as a writer is her ability to create characters that are believable with all their flaws exposed. Readers relate to her characters and identify with their humanness because Sittenfeld doesn’t let them off the hook. Her stories are told from the perspective of one very exposed character – usually a woman but sometimes a man – and often involve other characters who did the protagonist wrong or who simply view things differently. As the story develops, most readers expect to root for the protagonist but exactly the opposite happens when the reader realizes that maybe the protagonist is the irrational or crazy lunatic that lost a handle on reality. And, that’s the beauty of a Sittenfeld short story.

In one of my favorite short stories – Do-Over, two students who went to an exclusive private boarding school in New England (reminiscent of Groton where Sittenfeld attended) get together for dinner, 25 years after they graduated only to realize how very different each one has become. And, in another – Volunteers are Shining Stars – a recent college graduate strives to do good by volunteering at a homeless shelter only to realize she is unable to check her demons at the door.

It’s been a long time since I sat down and read a collection of short stories that totally intrigued and often surprised me, with each unpredictable story providing a fiction fix for this literary addict.

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