I first fell in love with Curtis Sittenfeld's writing back in 8th grade, when my older sister loaned me her copy of the essay collection Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, opens a new window. Sittenfeld's piece, "Your Life as a Girl", was exactly what I needed to read as I entered my turbulent high school years, hoping I would make it to the other side unscathed. The prose was straightforward, but raw and potent, shedding harsh light on the quiet, insidious ways that young women's lives can be diminished and circumscribed by society. Even reading it now as an (alleged!) adult, the writing still electrifies me.
Needless to say, I'm beyond excited for Sittenfeld's fifth novel, Eligible, opens a new window, to hit the stands this spring. It's a satirical retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, set in a modern world of Crossfit gyms, Paleo diets, and Bachelor-esque reality shows. I can't think of another writer better suited to such an adaptation.
As I (somewhat) patiently await my turn on the library's holds list, I just might revisit one of her earlier works to get my Sittenfeld fix.
Sittenfeld's debut novel follows a scholarship student, Lee Fiora, through her four years at an elite New England boarding school. It's a coming-of-age story unlike any I've read before, provocatively exploring larger themes of class, race, gender and sexuality, while still maintaining a sense of intimacy with the main character and her story.
The Man of My Dreams feels a bit like a sequel to Prep, with a similarly cerebral protagonist fumbling her way through college, entry-level jobs, and failed attempts at love affairs. Fans of the candid, unsentimental storytelling on HBO's Girls will really enjoy this one.
Just when I thought I had Curtis Sittenfeld all figured out, along came American Wife, a completely unanticipated departure from the angst-ridden fare I'd come to expect. This epic roman à clef is a richly imaginative, fictionalized account of the life of Laura Bush, from her years as a grammar school librarian, to her high profile marriage to a Republican presidential candidate.
Sittenfeld dabbles in the paranormal with this subtly affecting story of psychic twin sisters who respond very differently to the gift of clairvoyance. Violet Shramm embraces it, dropping out of college to become a professional psychic medium; Daisy Shramm fervently suppresses it in an effort to live a quiet, "normal" life in the suburbs with her beloved husband and children. When Violet appears on local TV to predict that a devastating earthquake is about to hit St. Louis, Missouri, it sets off a chain of events that threaten to topple Daisy's meticulously constructed universe.
(Author photo: Clara Molden, opens a new window)