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I used to know a wonderful, as-yet unpublished writer who had graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in the same class as Curtis Sittenfeld.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.
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.”
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.