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Fashion Book: Other People We Married

2011 February 24

I bought Emma Straub’s story collection Other People We Married when I had a friend in town a couple weeks ago and we visited BookCourt. Straub is the kind of Brooklyn darling who’s so precious and successful you can’t even stand it. Or maybe I can’t. The kind of woman whose apartment was featured on Design Sponge and whose wedding was featured on A Cup of Jo. The kind of writer whose first story collection is lauded for what the NYRB calls “the particular joy of discovering the terra incognita of a story well told.”

All envy aside, I bought the book because I really liked her recent essay about female friendships on The Paris Review blog and I hadn’t treated myself to a new book in too long. I also hadn’t read a book of contemporary short fiction in a while. In Other People We Married, Straub brings us to a variety of spaces and we see several different kinds of relationships: a gay couple, sisters, married couples, friends, and neighbors. The twelve stories deal with death, parenthood, friendship, sibling rivalry, and the struggles of marriage.

Despite the glowing praise the book’s gotten, I was disappointed. There were standout stories (“Pearls,” “Puttanesca,” and “Mohawk” for me), but for the most part, I was left with a kind of dread after finishing the book. I don’t require my endings to be happy, but the characters were so devoid of hope and spark that to me, any likable characteristics they possessed were canceled out. One of the main things that troubled me about the book were the male characters. Nearly all of the straight men portrayed in the book were cast in the role of an oppressive, boring, or just flat out douchey husband or significant other. None of the women are fulfilled in their romantic relationships with these men. In fact, the only women who were once happy in their relationships had dead husbands. The other sympathetic men in the book are gay, or in one case (“Abraham’s Enchanted Forest”), slightly crazy. What’s the deal?

I have a lot to say about the book and would love to discuss it more, but I’ll wait until one of you has read it. (Anyone?) In the meantime, here’s the look I created, inspired by “Pearls,” in which Franny Gold (a recurring character) visits Palm Beach with her college roommate Jackie and her family. Franny is from Brooklyn, and has never been on vacation in Florida before. I liked this story because of the relationship between Jackie and Franny–it reminded me of Straub’s Paris Review essay. I wanted to create a young, 70s beachy outfit for Franny, so here it is:

Other People We Married

Topshop western tassle cardigan: $98

Shoshanna bohemian paisley convertible one-piece bathing suit: $99

American Eagle distressed denim cutoffs: $37

Frye Joy huarache sandal: $109

Moroccan straw beach bag (Amazon): $30

J. Crew summer straw hat: $34.50

ASOS oversized crystal look sunglasses: $25

Have you been disappointed by a book you looked forward to recently?

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Raquel permalink
    February 24, 2011

    “For the most part, I was left with a kind of dread after finishing the book. I don’t require my endings to be happy, but the characters were so devoid of hope and spark that to me, any likable characteristics they possessed were canceled out.”

    I haven’t read this particular collection, but I just have to go ahead and agree with this statement whole-heartedly in regards to short story collections I’ve been reading recently. What is the deal? Why is everyone so unlikable? Why does everyone end up in terrible situations with no way out? Why are these people not rounded out with good characteristics? Why are these collections praised? Do we all just like to read short stories in order to get depressed? Has the point of them become to give us a moment of “there but for the grace of God go I!”? Because to me, that is not what a short story should do.

    I don’t require happy endings all the time either. But I do require realistic characters who react to the situations of life in real ways but who at least have some redeeming value as human beings. I know there are lots of great short-story writers out there writing right now, but the current trend really seems to lean toward morose characters and plots, people who if you knew them in real life, you’d strongly reconsider your friendship with them. If this is the future of short fiction, I might have to stick to the classics.

  2. Mal permalink
    February 25, 2011

    Since you and Raquel have covered just about everything in terms of how I feel about current fiction trends, I will instead focus on the fashion.

    I really like the outfit that you put together because it has a 70’s vibe, but it still feels modern. I am having an incredibly hard time with the 70’s trend because it is just so damn literal. I feel like designers and stylists aren’t even *trying* to update and modernize pieces, and the entire thing just seems lazy to me.

    I can get behind denim trousers because they are a modern version of the 70’s flare, but do we really need high-waisted bell-bottoms? I submit that we do not.

  3. April 1, 2011

    I finished Other People We Married today, and though I will be reviewing it on my site, I thought I’d comment here a bit since after all, it is this book that led me to your blog. It seems only appropriate :)

    So in the end, I basically feel as you did. My favorite story was, “Pearls.” I also really enjoyed “Fly-Over State” though like many of the stories, it felt somewhat incomplete to me. And I sort of liked the last story (“Hot Springs Eternal” I think) but that was more because it didn’t seem quite as…hopeless as the others. I don’t mind unlikable characters, but I do mind the general sameness of the stories. They all seemed to basically be in the same situation to me. That said, I wouldn’t rule out reading something else of hers (though to be fair, I am almost always willing to give a writer a second chance, haha)

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