Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664
You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of ten short stories by Curtis Sittenfeld. The title of the collection itself is important, for it reflects a motif that appears in many of the stories: the edgy (and often socially impolite) comments that many of the protagonists make, comments that most other people tend to keep to themselves. How appropriate, then, that in the opening story, “Gender Studies,” the driver of the main character’s taxi says of Donald Trump, “He’s not afraid to speak his mind, huh? You gotta give him that.” The title implies that those who speak aloud what others will only think internally are braver and more authentic than those who keep silent. This collection inserts women into a realm that is traditionally male-dominated and explores what happens when women stop just “thinking it” and start “saying it.”
In the story “The Prairie Wife,” Kirsten, a married woman, is obsessed with Lucy, a woman she knew the summer after her freshman year in college when they were both counselors at a camp in northern Minnesota. Then, Lucy proudly identified as a lesbian, Kirsten had a boyfriend, and, during the last two nights of the camp season, Kirsten and Lucy developed a sexual relationship. Now, Kirsten is married to a woman, and Lucy is “The Prairie Wife,” a social media presence with
3.1 million followers. (She follows a mere five hundred and thirty-three accounts, many of which belong to fellow-celebrities.) Almost all of Lucy’s vast social media empire, which of course is an extension of her life-style-brand empire...drives Kirsten crazy. Its content is fake and pandering and boring and repetitive—how many times will Lucy post variations on the same recipe for buttermilk biscuits?—and Kirsten devours all of it, every day.
In Lucy, Kirsten sees a contamination, the falsity of “the acquisition of an Alpine goat, the canning of green beans, the baby shower that Lucy is planning for her young friend Jocelyn, who lives on a neighboring farm.” What troubles Kirsten is that the Lucy she knew from camp, the person she thinks of as the “real” Lucy, is no longer the Lucy who is now branded as a social media influencer. Every day, Kirsten thinks about “whether she has the power to destroy Lucy’s life” by leaking the story of their camp relationship to a gossip website. What is ironic in this story is that Lucy is the one who helped Kirsten discover her true sexual identity, enabling Kirsten to develop a life that is authentic to her: she is happily married to Casey, with whom she has two sons. Lucy is now the “false” one, the woman who molded her identity to become more socially acceptable: “Lucy Headrick was gorgeous (she had long blond hair and magnificent cheekbones), was married to a man, and was, in some conservative-flavored way, religious.” In the present, Lucy can only “think” her truth, while Kirsten is free to live it, a reversal of where the women were twenty years prior.
It is important to note that most of the protagonists in Sittenfeld’s collection are women, who (to use a social stereotype) tend to silence themselves more than men. These women are strong and empowered and outspoken, and though they often mess up when they speak aloud, at least they are speaking. In the story “The World Has Many Butterflies,” the protagonist, a housewife, finds that
she was simultaneously shocked by the conversation, shocked to be having it with a man, shocked by its effortlessness, and not surprised at all; it was as if she’d been waiting to be recognized, as if she’d never sung in public, then someone had handed her a microphone and she’d opened her mouth and released a full-throated vibrato.
The act of “saying,” in this collection, is transgressive, as if Sittenfeld is asking via that opening story, “Gender Studies,” “If Trump can say it, why can’t we?”
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