Other People We Married

I love Emma Straub. I love that she is a bookseller. I love her blog. I like when she takes to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to tell writers how to win the hearts of the bookstore staff at public readings (See also: Candy). I love that she had four novels rejected, had her collection of short stories published by a small house and then got picked up by a larger one, and now one of those rejected novels will see the light of day. She’s my new favorite success story and I wish she would make me a mix tape and matching scarf.

And, damn, if she doesn’t know how to write a sentence.

Straub’s collection Other People We Married is 12 stories about a woman or women who are on vacation, intrigued by something beyond themselves, not-quite in love with their partner or in love with someone who doesn’t return the sentiment. Straub drops a reader into a life, then willy nilly spits the reader back out into the world. (Admittedly, sometimes prematurely).

She foreshadows the fact that she’s got her trigger finger on the eject button in the first story of the collection, “Some People Must Really Fall in Love,” a piece about a college writing teacher who has a Tiger Beat-era crush on one of her students. She’s started wearing eyeliner. She worries that the other teachers crammed into a small office space can sense this not-quite, but kind of inappropriate attraction.

“On Thursdays, I taught my beginning creative writing course. I had twenty-five freshmen, most of whom were disinclined to believe me when I said that poetry didn’t have to rhyme and that stories didn’t have to have morals at the end.”

Things that Straub says that should be graffiti scrawled in bathrooms for the amusement of those who settle into a stall:
“The room smelled like pheromones and soy sauce. I was suddenly famished.”
“This was the point of having a baby: a tiny, growing mirror.”
“Even her hair looked well-rested. . . ”
“‘I need sunglasses,’ I said. ‘It feels like my eyeballs are turning into hard-boiled eggs.’”
“Kitch wasn’t kitch if you were alone.”
“Each time it came out of his mouth, Laura felt like she’d been caught shoplifting.”
“Most of all, Marjorie enjoyed birding, which didn’t seem like a hobby at all, but like agreeing to be more observant.”

She has one reoccurring character. Fran Gold is first seen as the object of a girl-on-girl crush in the story “Pearls.” Her roommate Jackie brings her along on a family trip to Florida and while Franny helps Jackie apply makeup for a gala, they share a kiss that rocks Jackie’s world but is more of a failed experiment for Franny. In a later story, Franny has lost the -ny and gained a baby. She’s on a weekend trip with her gay best friend and her husband, a secondary character in a life where she shares more with the other man. And then she comes back again, son now school-aged, when she and her husband drop him off at summer camp and consider what to do with each other during this alone-time. For as much as I like these stories, I wish Straub had doubled back to Jackie, too. I’d like to see what happened to her while Fran was sitting across the table from her husband lunching on pancakes.

All in all, I like this collection. The stories feel really honest and the writer feels very likable. There are some strange choices on where to lop off the story, but I think it’s actually better for the showing of seams. I can’t wait to see what else comes out of her fingertips. (I am a little concerned that in two months I won’t remember the difference between a Dan Chaon short story and an Emma Straub short story).

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