You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

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. Continue reading

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Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

In my previous ‘before-children’ life, I worked in water management. The nineties were an interesting time in Victoria in terms of water resources – we shifted from simply river management to whole-of-catchment management; the importance of environmental flows were recognised; and paying for water that was collected on private property (in farm dams) was established. The changes don’t seem like much when I list them here but they took years to implement and had major implications for rural communities, legislation, and the way natural resources were managed.

What does this have to do with Anna Quindlen’s novel, Miller’s Valley?

Everything and nothing. Continue reading

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

There are two ways to approach Matthew Weiner’s novella, Heather, the Totality – take it at face value or ponder Weiner’s broader commentary.

Should you take it at face value, you’re in for a ripping afternoon’s read. It’s the fast-paced story of Karen and Mark Breakstone, whose only child, Heather, is the centre of their world. But someone enters Heather’s life who threatens the family’s perfect Manhattan existence.

If you want more to think about, Heather, the Totality offers opportunity to consider the influence of one’s upbringing (particularly poverty versus wealth); the impact of social inequity; and what justifies particular actions. Continue reading

The Ice Storm by Rick Moody – a literary mixtape

I loved The Ice Storm by Rick Moody. It’s a brutal, sad story.

There’s not much to like about the characters but there’s lots to like in Moody’s words. This book was extremely visual for me – perhaps because I saw And Lee’s insanely good movie version of the story years ago, or perhaps it’s because Moody has created a distinct sense of place and time. Either way, writing a review wasn’t working so I’ve gone with an audio approach.

I Write the Songs / Barry Manilow

Once his dreams had been songs. He’d been a balladeer of promise and opportunity. Continue reading

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

New York, 1995, and newly graduated 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff has deserted her ‘nice college boyfriend’ and has moved into a slope-floored, unheated apartment in New York with domineering Don – a Marxist, aspiring writer, and everyday arsehole.

Although she dreams of becoming a poet, Rakoff takes a job as an assistant at the literary agency that represents J. D. Salinger. The ‘Agency’ is from another era – plush wood-panelled offices complete with Dictaphones and typewriters; old-time agents doing business their way, including martini lunches and afternoon naps; and a boss (‘swathed in a whiskey mink, her eyes covered with enormous dark glasses, her head with a silk scarf in an equestrian pattern’) who keeps track of her authors on specially printed index cards. Her boss notes –

‘…agents used to be upstanding. None of these multiple submissions…no auctions, with publishers bidding against each other. It’s uncouth. That’s not the Agency way. We send things out to one editor at a time. We match writers with editors. We have morals.’ Continue reading