A few good short stories in my old New Yorkers by Allegra Goodman (“FAQs”) in a September, 2017 issue and one by Curtis Sittenfeld (“Show Don’t Tell” in a June, 2017 issue, reminded me to download Sittenfeld’s new book of short stories – You Think It, I’ll Say it – a collection of short stories, to Audible. So far the stories are racier than expected, but with quiet deadpan endings that don’t always register with this listener. I have been halfway through the next story before realizing I missed the ending of the former. I could use a gong or a bell to signal the next story starting, but each has a unique and identifiable perspective on the character’s condition – confusion, betrayal, rage, disappointment, regret…
Characters are judgmental, while believing others are secretly judging them. “Gender Studies” is the story of a newly single professor having the “anthropological experience” of a one-night stand with a Trump-supporting working-class bus driver. In “A Regular Couple,” two women meet again years after high school – one the ugly duckling growing into a successful beauty and the other the popular pretty girl turning into a drudge. Both are on their honeymoon. Resentments flair and the final, petty act of revenge horribly satisfying. Sittenfeld’s characters are not very nice but very real.
Susan Dominus in her review for the New York Times says
“In the lives of Sittenfeld’s characters, the lusts and disappointments of youth loom large well into middle age, as insistent as a gang of loud, showy teenagers taking up all the oxygen in the room…The women of “You Think It, I’ll Say It” are, as a group, a demanding breed. They often assume the worst in their imagined adversaries. Sometimes they are wrong, but they are right about just enough (and funny enough) that we forgive them. And, because they know they need absolution for their own worst motives, we forgive those, too.”
Reese Witherspoon has optioned the book for the screen, and Sittenfeld is busy finalizing her next novel, due out in 2019 – she will be imagining how Hillary Clinton’s life might have played out if she had turned down Bill’s marriage proposal and never married him. I can’t wait.
Review of Sisterland
After following the characters in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles for years (one character was named after me, but only my first name appears in one of the short stories), it’s a relief to have a few shorts without cliffhangers in Archer’s new book of short stories – Tell Tale.
In fourteen short stories, Archer targets a range of characters and lifestyles, from the bank executive forced to retire months before his pension, to the iron monger who became a theologian. In one story, “The Holiday of a Lifetime,” Archer offers the reader a choice of endings, and two well-known literary characters pop up in “A Wasted Hour” and “A Good Toss to Lose.” Demonstrating his talent for writing clever plots, Jeffrey Archer begins and ends his collection with stories confined to 100 words; the others are varying lengths, but each has a surprising O’Henry twist at the end.
Archer’s newest collection of short stories is as entertaining as his novels, and he ends with a teaser for his fans – the first four chapter of his next novel – “Heads You Win” to be published next year – I can’t wait.
After listening to Lauren Groff read her short story “Dogs Go Wolf” in the New Yorker about two little girls, ages four and seven, left behind on a deserted island, I thought about why I preferred novels to short stories. In Groff’s voice, the little girls came alive, their trials of fear and hunger seemed more acute than if I had read about it. Their misery continues through a half hour – or six pages in the New Yorker – getting more and more horrible, until they eventually fall into a stupor – “two little girls made of air.” To distract from the horror, Groff inserts a promise of their future – one becoming a lawyer, the other married – before returning to the blazing sun and the little wolves they’ve become. By the end of the story, they are rescued, but the gap in their lives seems hollow in the short description of the incident on the island that made them whoever they became. Perhaps Groff will write more in a novel. I’d like to know more about these brave souls.
Short stories offer a quick glimpse into a moment of the characters’ lives. Edith Pearlman and Jane Gardam have successfully navigated the difficulty of the short – both offering soundbites worth remembering. I am looking forward to reading Penelope Lively’s collection in “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.” When I write, I prefer the short story, as difficult as it may be to condense, to spending years with the characters of a novel – but maybe that will change.
For now, the short story is a quick diversion, and when well-written, has a lot to offer, but I still prefer immersing myself in the novel. Claire Messud’s two little girls in “The Burning Girl” have me mesmerized right now, and I am glad to have them with me for longer than a short.
Do you have a preference? short story or novel?
To hear Groff’s story – listen to the podcast here
Reviews of Other Books by Groff:
While reading Jojo Moyes Paris for One and Other Stories, I could not help thinking of William Sidney Porter’s short stories. Better know as O. Henry, Porter’s romantic tales always ended with a surprise, whether in the selfless romance of The Gift of the Magi or in the story of a sick woman hanging on with The Last Leaf. In this collection, Moyes offers her wry outlook and, like O.Henry, ends each with a jolt.
The title story, “Paris for One,” is the longest – all 150 pages – and could easily be an hour long Christmas special. When Nell’s boyfriend is not at the London station, she gets on the train anyway, hoping he is just late for their romantic weekend in Paris. Feeling alone in a strange city, Nell receives his message that he is not coming and decides to return to London. In a series of serendipitous occurrences, the story evolves into Nell’s emergence as a determined woman who finds true love in Paris. Only Moyes could transform a melodramatic interlude into a funny and heart-warming story, leaving the reader satisfied and smiling at the ending.
The “Other Stories” include brief tales, peeking into the windows of familiar lives: the has-been actor who is being tortured with racy tweets, the frumpy mother who finds a pair of expensive shoes that change her outlook, the taxi driver who gives a harried woman the courage to live her own life, the jewelry store clerk who saves a burglar, the husband who buys his wife a coat they cannot afford, the couple who find their afternoon delight again after years of marriage, the woman who meets her old lover at a party, and the secret communication of a woman with a stranger’s phone.
If you enjoyed Moyes’ novels (see my reviews below), you will be delighted with this collection. Not all the stories have happy endings but each has the author’s trademark wit and charm.
Reviews of Other Moyes Books:
In Pulitzer Prize winner Joy Williams’ flash fiction – Ninety-Nine Stories of God – the stories are so short, the impact takes a few seconds to reach – like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Listening to the book on Audible is a definite disadvantage; the next story begins before the last has been fully absorbed.
Short parables anchored with a one or two word morals at the end, the stories range from strange encounters to joyful incidents to somber lessons. Some are only one sentence:
“We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested.” The word after the story is “Museum.”
The Zen-like stories are not really about God (although he is omnipresent) but quick thoughts about everything, anything – maybe seeking some deep truth – but too fast to linger in your mind. No time to think about it -whatever it is – and maybe it doesn’t matter. As I walked along, I heard:
“There are certain times where it does not matter If you hear the word yes or the word no in answer to your question, whether you turn left or right, you will reach your destination.”
Did I like the book? Yes, it was a great companion, although I was tempted to rewind a few times while listening. If I really wanted to note the words of wisdom, I would read this in book form – but, I don’t. A quick flash was enough and satisfying.