I want to be the kind of person who reads short story collections. I want to be the kind of person who likes literary fiction and detailed literary short stories. I am not that person, but I keep trying to be. So, when a few of my bookish friends decided to read You Think It, I’ll Say it, I remembered that I had purchased the book in a Kindle deal, and joined into the reading.
This is a collection of ten contemporary, realistic short stories. Most have to do with miscommunications, awkward interactions, or the narrator’s growth and changing perspective. They were a close-up view of a character or two for 10-25 pages or so, and then fade away.
I noticed . . .
I noticed how awkward and cringeworthy many of the interactions are. For example, in the first short story, a woman kicks a man out of bed, thinking he is lying about having her driver’s license. The woman later finds her driver’s license in a pocket. That’s just a little taste of the awkwardness in the stories.
I also noticed that all of these characters were white middle class to upper-middle class. They all seemed very similar in tone, and at times, I struggled to differentiate between narrators. I also struggled to remember details from one story to the next in the similar tone.
I wondered . . .
I often read these stories wondering what they would have looked like through another character’s eyes. Often, it seemed that another character, a little further out emotionally would have had a better view on the action.
I also often wondered what a novel length treatment of these stories would have looked like. I’ve never read any of Sittenfeld’s longer works, so I would like to see how a novel from her looks. She did a lot of telling instead of showing in the stories, and I think a longer length would have given her more room to show instead of tell. It also would have allowed her not to wrap things so neatly into a bow.
It reminded me of . . .
It reminded me of every awkward conversation or situation I have ever been in in my life. I did not enjoy reliving them.
I’ve been watching the show 7th Heaven with my children, and there are plenty of awkward, cringeworthy moments in that show. Real life, just like in the book.
Two excellent quotes . . .
There are two or three stories in this book where the protagonist is considering having an affair. One protagonist is having a secret, emotional affair with her husband’s brother. As she said about secrecy in marriage,
Marriage comes in all shapes and sizes, but if one person is getting close to someone else, either both parts of the couple have to know and be on board or else it’s a betrayal.
Another topic that comes up frequently in these stories is the character’s feeling of aloneness and how all people, at times, feel alone. As Sittenfeld writes:
Oh, our private habits, our private selves–how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.
There were winning moments in this book, but overall, it just really wasn’t for me. I appreciated it more because I read it with friends. Otherwise, I would have put it aside and not attempted to read it at all.