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I used to know a wonderful, as-yet unpublished writer who had graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in the same class as Curtis Sittenfeld. A look would pass over my writer-friend’s face if Ms. Sittenfeld was mentioned, a look that is hard to describe. Two parts envy, one part pure venom, perhaps. Or, straight-up nausea? And I totally get why.

More than most other writers, Ms. Sittenfeld inspires incredible feelings of inadequacy. (I am only speaking for myself here? Maybe, although I think not.) She is quite young and has published three well-received novels. More than that, they actually sell. They are mass-market accessible, yet still smart and literary. And she makes it seem SO EASY.

I read her first novel, Prep, a few years ago, but I read her third, American Wife, and her second, The Man of My Dreams, in that order, in the past week. The fact that I read the second two books so quickly and in such quick succession might over-inflate my perception of Ms. Sittenfeld, but I came away from my marathon thinking of her as something of a speed-writing genius.

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note: I actually wrote this for something outside of the blog, but it fits in well enough that I decided to reprint it. This story will be of special interest to other SLC grads–catch all the Mt. Vernon / Bronxville stuff!

I’ve had the phrase “money earnin’ Mount Vernon” stuck in my head, like a line from a song, since I read it in the story “Virgins” by Danielle Evans. It is the most obvious example of Ms. Evans’ nearly hum-able language, but it is not the only one. She employs an urban musicality in the telling of her story, even invoking hip-hop to set her scene: three teenage characters lounging poolside, listening to “Me Against the World” the day after Tupac got shot.

The teenagers spit such sharp, sexually-charged dialogue at each other it is hard not to respond aloud. Jasmine—of the recently lost virginity and desperate desire to escape Westchester—catches a whiff of Michael’s banana-scented sunscreen and explodes:

“Sunscreen,” Jasmine said, “is for white people…You smell like food. I don’t know why you wanna smell like food. Maybe that works in Bronxville, but ain’t nobody here gonna lick you cause you smell like bananas.”

I don’t want you to lick me,” Michael said. “I don’t know where your mouth has been. I know you don’t never shut it.”

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I wish Deb Olin Unferth were my best friend.

Had I not postponed dinner until after her reading the other night, then ordered a whiskey and found myself slurring my words by the time she was finished, I would have embarked on a campaign then to convince her, somehow, that I was worthy.

Because Victoria Redel read her story “Deb Olin Unferth”  (“No one in Wyoming thinks that Deb Olin Unferth is a fuckup…”) aloud to us in class, I always pictured Ms. Unferth looking like Victoria: beautiful, confident, stylish, professor-age. Seeing her read from her new novel, Vacation, at the St. Mark’s series this week, I was surprised to find that, although she is a professor, she is a close-to-my-age professor and although she’s stylish, she’s black smock sweater and cute black haircut stylish. Often, a revelation like this would send me spiraling into a fit of inadequacy and jealousy, but luckily this time I was able to halt my unraveling well before that point, stopping at envy and admiration.

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