The title of Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest, You Think It, I’ll Say It, comes from its second story, a compact tragicomedy called “The World Has Many Butterflies.” In it, two parents who socialize casually at their children’s shared school activities begin a private game to alleviate the boredom of another interminable soccer practice or bake sale. The only rules are wild speculation and brutal honesty: That couple in the corner secretly hates each other; this guy drinks to forget he works at Halliburton; the lady over there is wearing way too many Spanx. It’s nasty and thrilling and it leads to trouble, at least for one of them. It’s also exactly the kind of scene Sittenfeld (Prep, Eligible) excels at: People smart enough to know better, and human enough to realize they can’t help it.
The majority of Think’s 10 tales (which have already been optioned for an Apple series produced by Reese Witherspoon and starring Kristen Wiig) center on a certain kind of Midwestern middle-class ennui — characters soured but not completely defeated by the Grand Canyon-size gap between expectation and reality. A professor at a conference in Kansas City has an awkward dalliance with her airport-shuttle driver (“Gender Studies”); a terminal bachelor in St. Louis begins an emotional affair with his brother’s wife (“Plausible Deniability”); a woman on her honeymoon runs into the Mean Girl who tortured her in high school (“A Regular Couple”). In each, Sittenfeld taps into the endless mystery of “our private habits, our private selves — how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.” B+