I’m slowly making more progress on my ARC/Galleys. It’s been a while since I last read a collection of short stories, last summer I read a couple of collections, but they’re not something I seek out very often. So when the publisher reached out about this one I figured why not.*
I’ve enjoyed Sittenfeld’s writing, Prep, from way before I started this blog and more recently Eligible, her retelling of Pride and Prejudice as part of the now (seemingly?) defunct The Austen Project. The downside of this collection in particular, is because I enjoy Sittenfeld’s writing, I had already read at least three, if not five of the previously published short stories of the ten, but I’ll talk more about this later.
Overall, I was underwhelmed with the collection. There were definitely gems in it, but as I was reading it felt all too familiar to me. Again, part of this could be from having read at least three of these pieces previously, but that definitely wasn’t all of it. I think Sittenfeld’s themes are interesting (the midwest, gender norms, LGBT lives, bored married couples with children, without children, with money dynamics), but I think in this tight of a format they become rote very fast, at least for me.
But I will say, she does them well. This quote from A Regular Couple hit so many nails on the head that I stopped to read it multiple times. Perhaps it’s me over-identifying with her characters, but I think it’s her ability to create universal truths (like that Austen P&P reference?) that speak to many people for many reasons.
“I wonder, of course—it’s my deepest secret, and would likely be guessable to even a distant acquaintance—if Jason married me for my money. Not only for my money, but if my income nudged me into some category of desirability I might not otherwise have attained. Jason is for the little guy, yes, but he has quietly expensive tastes. He spends more on clothes than I do—on Italian leather loafers or simple crewneck sweaters that, lo and behold, are cashmere—and he enjoys a good steak and a nice cocktail. Whereas my own enjoyment of these things is always accompanied by an uneasiness—I still can’t order a thirty-dollar entrée without thinking, Holy shit, thirty dollars for an entrée?” (emphasis mine)
I think by far the best piece for me, was The Prairie Wife, because of what Sittenfeld did with naming conventions and heteronormativity and when I realized what she did WAY later than I should have I was like WHOOP GO YOU! Make me question, and honestly momentarily be ashamed, of my assumptions! If you read any from this collection, this is the one to read. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to give it away, even though I already have basically.
The other story that was really enjoyable was Do-Over, the timeliness of it, dealing specifically with the election of Donald Trump as President and the world as it is now. Sittenfeld did a great job capturing a large portion of the US’s despair and depression from the election, but at the same time shows how a normal everyday person is coping with the fall out.
“In general, I have no desire to ever have another conversation about Hillary Clinton, to debate the role her gender played. I’m not sure I want to have any conversation about sexism. If someone doesn’t see that gender played a huge role, why would I waste my time trying to convince them?” (Do-Over)
I pulled the most quotes from Gender Studies, and how could I not with this gem leading it off close to the start,
“She is a professor of gender and women’s studies, but outside academia it’s often easier not to get into it.” (Gender Studies)
Seriously, preach! My degree is in gender, sexuality, and queer theory and I drop it to gender studies when I first tell people about it, it’s just easier. And then she just kept going with great references and one-offs
“Is this how the heroines of romance novels feel? They have, in air quotes, no choice but to submit; they are absolved of responsibility by extenuating circumstances. (Semi-relatedly, Nell was once the first author on a paper titled: ‘Booty Call: Norms of Restricted and Unrestricted Sociosexuality in Hookup Culture,’ a paper that, when she lats checked Google Scholar, which was yesterday, had been cited thirty-one times.)” (Gender Studies)
Writing this though I’m wondering if I was unfair on my Goodreads rating. They’re usually gut instinct ratings as I finish and I gave this 3 stars. I think because I felt so underwhelmed having read so many of them or feeling as if I’d read most of them. I doubt I’ll change it, but I hope that my review shows that it really is a good collection of stories.
Recommendation: Read it. This is a solid collection of short stories, most of which entertain and teach which is incredible in this type of format. I find Sittenfeld’s writing to be truthful and even universal at some points. Although I think it may have been the goal of the novel, it’s a little stifled in the breath and depth of the characters, or it could be how I read it. Overall, though it failed to impress me, I think readers new to Sittenfeld will thoroughly enjoy this collection.
*I received a copy of You Think It, I’ll Say It from the publisher via NetGalley in return for my honest opinion. No goods or cash were received.