Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld

Even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible I did really like her collection of short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It, so I was looking forward to read Help Yourself. Sadly, I did not find the three stories collected in Help Yourself to be as memorable or evocative as the ones in her previous collection. Two of the stories were probably meant to make the reader cringe, and although they kind of succeeded, they did not really have any interesting to say. Although all three narratives come across as somewhat realistic, and they do touch upon on relevant topics, they ultimately felt superficial, merely skimming the surface of the characters, dynamics, issues they were centring on.

‘White Women LOL’ : 2 ½ stars
This was easily my least favourite story. We have a forgettable white suburban woman who is filmed while being a total ‘Karen’. She doesn’t think she’s racist, nor that she acted wrongly, if anything she seems to believe that she didn’t come across well in the video, and that the whole incident was misconstrued. The dog of her one black friend is missing, and this woman decides that by finding him she might ‘redeem’ herself or something. This story was very satirical towards a certain type of white American women, a type that I would rather not read about as I do not find their stupidity and cattiness to be even remotely amusing. While I do believe that people like them exist, I wonder why anyone would write a story about them, especially one that is as shallow as this. This story tried and failed to be witty and sharp.

‘Creative Differences’ : 3 stars
This story was more likeable, but I once again didn’t care for the tone of the narrative. We have this millennial from the Mid-West we are meant to root for but I kind of found myself irked by her. The film crew from Manhattan are snobby towards her, and she doesn’t really challenge them as the summary for this collection would led you to believe. She sticks to her decision, but it wasn’t a particularly subversive act on her part. It seemed weird that the story followed the perspective of just one man from this crew, rather than the whole crew or the Mid-Westerner herself. This guy played a side character role and yet it was through his pov that we were seeing things through. Again, this was a satirical story, this time more focused on the film industry and the art world. It wasn’t a bad story per se but it was kind of boring and forgettable.

‘Show Don’t Tell’: 3 ½ stars
The best story in the lot. This felt very autobiographical, and the first person narration added a layer of intimacy and immediacy that the first two stories did not have. I liked the narrator’s wry tone, and her dynamics between students who have very different writing styles as well as contrasting views on what good writing is. Here Sittenfeld has something to tell, and it clearly come across (so much so that it doesn’t read like fiction).

MY RATING: 3 out of 5 stars
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Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld : book review

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Over the course of 500 pages or we become acquainted with what I can best describe as a grating cast of characters. Eligible is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice that seems mostly focused on making fun of how idiotic and delusional its characters are. It soon becomes apparent that this is a satirical work that depicts in a rather exaggerated fashion a family of ‘ancestry’ from Cincinnati. Eligible pokes fun at many modern trends such as dieting, yoga, CrossFit, reality shows, and the list goes on and on.
There were few scenes which managed to be satirical without being 1) irritating and 2) unfunny. Much of the novel’s satire relies on the idiocy of the characters, which ends making them seem only props for exposing certain ridiculous beliefs and behaviours.
As humour goes, these characters were unfunny and the narrative lacked the wit of a good satirist so that much of their silliness remains unchallenged or unremarked upon. Also, it seemed that readers were meant to find these characters funny or amusing merely because they are self-centred and irresponsible.
At times there were some interesting observations made about class and prejudice but most of the narrative seemed concerned with petty squabbles between equally horrible people. Although Liz isn’t as irritating as the other characters, she has these moments of complete stupidity that made her rather unpleasant. Her sisters were awful. I didn’t care for them since they are moronic. They are self-absorbed, careless, offensive…their mother made me seethe with anger. It was hard to believe that they didn’t realise what their expensive ways was costing them…and Liz never really calls them out on their behaviour. She doesn’t even defend herself when she is accused of (view spoiler).
The romance was…okay? Darcy seems to undergo a personality exchange towards the end … he just was boring.
Overall, in spite of its length, this book doesn’t manage to create well-rounded or believable characters. I know that much of what went on in this book was satirical but these characters were the most irritating and detestable characters I have read of in a while…which made me not care about their issues or struggles.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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