“Other People We Married” stories by Emma Straub

“Other People We Married” stories by Emma Straub (2011) – 214 pages

In the title story of the new collection of stories by Emma Straub, “Other People We Married”, we have the new ideal of the family vacation.   Not only do the husband, wife, and child go on their vacation, but they are accompanied by the husband’s gay friend, Charlie, who also just happens to be the wife Franny’s best friend.   While the husband Jim quietly drives the car, the wife Franny in the back seat with three year-old son Bobby carries on a sharp witty conversation with her best friend Charlie who is sitting in the passenger seat in front.  All are happy with the arrangement.  The husband is happy just to drive the car, and the wife can indulge in a scintillating exchange with Charlie while still taking good care of her child, and Bobby is delighted to be with his happy mother, while Charlie is enjoying the vacation too.

The stories in “Other People We Married” are amiable snapshots of life in the twenty first century.   Certainly it is hard to generalize about life in the twenty first century, but let’s just say that these stories are not about or for the troglodytes who would actually vote for someone financed by Americans for Prosperity or the Koch brothers.  These are thinking perceptive human beings.   One facet of these stories I particularly liked were the frequent surges of witty repartee or insight that give an Oscar Wilde feel to these stories.  Some writing instructors might urge that a writer to tone down these flashes of wit because they might detract from the overall style of the stories, but I disagree. I think that writers should use their full array of talents in order to win over their readers, especially in short stories.  I enjoy sharp repartee and clever insights.

 “In the light, the house wasn’t that bad – it was worse.”

“My parents didn’t close the door when they used the bathroom, and as far as I knew no one in John’s family had ever even had to go,”

“Jackie’s whole body was taut and boring, and Franny’s was wiggly.  Everyone they passed on the street turned to look at her, and Jackie couldn‘t blame them.  Franny moved her bottom from side to side with every step, like she was Fred Astaire dancing with an invisible Ginger Rogers, always pushing her backward in those heels.” 

“Other People We Married” is that rare book that was first published by a tiny publisher in 2009, but developed such a devoted following that it was picked up by a major publisher and re-published.  Emma Straub, daughter of horror genre writer Peter Straub, is mining much different fictional territory than her father.   These are contemporary witty stories about everyday life.

If you read a lot of collections of stories like I do, you begin to recognize a pattern.  Every collection starts by putting the best stories up front, and usually the best story in the collection is the first followed by several strong stories.  If enough good stories are available, the collection will end with a strong story to leave a good taste in the reader’s mouth.  The weaker stories are usually hidden two-thirds or three-quarters of the way into the collection.  It is a rare collection that doesn’t follow this pattern.  The last collection I read where every story was equally strong was “The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman.  “Other People We Married” does not entirely escape this short story collection pattern with a few less memorable stories near the end.  However the strong stories in the collection are probably strong enough to carry the reader through.

It is always fun to see a new talented writer emerge.  I suppose the next major hurdle for Emma Straub is to write a full novel.  I wish her luck.

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