I needed a bit of a palate cleanser, and short story collections almost always fit that bill nicely. I had already read Prep by the same author years ago. I remember liking it, but not really identifying with the characters very well, they were a little too outside my personal experience.
I had kind of the same feeling with some of the stories in this collection. A lot of them are really great, and overall I did like this collection, but Sittenfeld does tend to write about very privileged, very well off white people and their very specific problems, which is kind of hard for me to give two shits about, if I’m being honest. These stories follow a general theme of exploring interpersonal relationships of various kinds. It’s a good theme, and it holds the collection together nicely.
It opens with Gender Studies, which is about a middle aged woman dealing with the fact that her common law partner of eleven years ditched her for a 23-year-old student of his. Nell is a gender studies professor, and heads to a conference in Kansas City, where she meets her shuttle driver Luke. This is a good, strong start for this book. Nell is a compelling woman, one that I liked and who’s situation, not being ‘old’ but getting older and dealing with where you now fit int he world, I could understand. It’s also a fun story.
Vox Clamantis in Deserto is about how people can seem very different from the outside before you get to know them, and how we project onto people what we want them to be, especially when we’re young and in unfamiliar territory. This is another strong one, and one of my favorites in the book. Bad Latch was another of my favorites, and has a similar theme.
A Regular Couple, Off the Record, and Do-Over didn’t resonate with me as much, these ones were the ones that kind of went into the “I really don’t care about your over privileged, fancy people problems” for me. It’s not that they are bad, I just couldn’t get into them. The World has Many Butterflies kind of also fell into this place, but I had some sympathy for the lead character, even if it’s mainly of the, “oh no, no girl, that is a bad plan…” kind of way.
Several of these stories also mentions Trump being president as a kind of a thing which, as I’ve mentioned in a few other reviews, bugs me. It makes the stories seem kind of already dated and irrelevant in a way, which takes away from the bigger story. This is unfortunate, especially because in all but one story it really isn’t actually relevant except as a way to flag that the characters are generically liberal, which… show don’t tell. Granted, given that most of these people are that breed of rich, white liberal feminists that don’t actually look all that far beyond their own neighborhoods and don’t know why being “intersectional” is a thing that matters, it is harder to show, but still. We get it. You don’t like Trump. You are officially categorized as a “good person.” Carry on.
So, I gave this three stars. It’s a solid three. I’m glad I read it, I’d fully recommend it to someone who liked her other books, but it’s not going to be a re-read any time soon for me.