One of my counselling lecturers said something that has stuck with me – “When someone is telling you a story, always listen for the rub.” I knew exactly what he meant. It’s the bit where things don’t quite add up, where someone suddenly reveals more than you expect or conversely, less than you expect. Or the bit where someone reveals a little guilt or anxiety or anger or shame. There’s always a giveaway – the story is told with a ‘but’ or an ‘although’ – however, you have to listen for it.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It, is a collection of short stories, each with their own rub. The stories are about ordinary relationships and situations – a woman runs into a high school frenemy; a volunteer at a women’s refuge takes a disliking to a new, overly enthusiastic colleague; a lonely college student is befriended by a charismatic classmate; a single mother tries to combine work and parenting.
Sittenfeld doesn’t throw her characters curveballs – she’s much too crafty for that. Instead, it’s the small, seemingly inconsequential details that provide the turning points and in each story she reveals the unease, disenchantment, regret and envy that plagues our modern, middle-class lives.
I had a strong instinctive sense that, among these poised, preppy, winsomely eating-disordered girls, I couldn’t compete for male attention.
Some will judge these stories as familiar, of the ‘first world problems’ variety, however, Sittenfeld’s insights into interior worlds give her characters depth, and the stories are believable, relevant and often witty.
In ‘The World Has Many Butterflies’, a discontented wife is engaged in a bitchy game by a male acquaintance. The game is called ‘you think it, I’ll say it’ and when the ending of this particular story is revealed, it gives the title of the book meaning, illustrating that our initial judgements of people are not always accurate.
Was it possible she had been bored for the entire time she and Keith had lived in Houston? For her entire adulthood? Because, alarmingly, I’ll Think It, You Say It left her as cheerful and energized as a Zumba class.
I won’t pick a favourite – there’s not a single weak link in this collection. It’s rare that I become engrossed in short stories but I couldn’t put You Think It, I’ll Say It down.
I received my copy of You Think It, I’ll Say It from the publisher, Random House, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I was hungry, and I envisioned eating, say, chicken pot pie with Rae’s mother, then perhaps watching Family Matters or Unsolved Mysteries together before going to bed at ten pm.