Books

Review: 'You Think It, I'll Say It' delves into societal expectations, norms

The 10 stories in Curtis Sittenfeld’s new collection, “You Think It, I’ll Say It,” find men and women who are often adrift in this contemporary moment, unable to find firm footing in their relationships as they struggle to understand not only others but themselves. The Writers’ Workshop alum brings to life characters who struggle with self-definition, particularly in light of shifting societal expectations and norms.

In “Gender Studies,” for example, Nell, who has had an awkward one-night stand with a younger man, wrestles with the terms and conditions of modern romance.

“She does join Match, she goes to a salon and gets fully waxed, she starts dating an architect she didn’t meet on Match, who is eight years older than her, pro women’s pubic hair, and appalled by how readily a gender-studies professor will capitulate to arbitrary standards of female beauty. Nell finds his view to be a relief personally, but intellectually a facile and unendearing failure of imagination.”

It is at the intersection of such complex and contradictory impulses and ideas that Sittenfeld’s characters are most fully realized. No one’s ideas of self or of society are uncomplicated, and Sittenfeld masterfully explores how this fact shapes our interactions and personal reflections.

Longtime readers of Sittenfeld will recognize some of her ongoing interests and concerns, especially as she explores the sexual dynamics in play at a boarding school in “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” but the collection doesn’t feel mired in the past as defined by her earlier work. Rather, this book feels of the moment while still considering timeless themes. I’ll say it: I think you should read this book.

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