“Book Review: The Story You Tell Yourself”
Reviewed by Joseph Haeger
A collection of intuitive literary fiction that examines human connection and disconnection
I’m of the opinion that literature should raise more questions than it answers. One of the purposes of a story is to provide another angle to our reality, helping us see life from a different perspective.
Hemingway achieved this by using the Iceberg Method. Basically, the stories he wrote showed only ten percent of what was happening and everything else was implied. This put the onus of responsibility on the reader to figure out what was happening in his seemingly simple stories.
Lisa Attanasio takes on this Iceberg Method in her short story collection, The Story You Tell Yourself.
These stories show characters who communicate with one another, who try to establish authentic connections, but in story after story, we witness near misses where the people don’t quite break through whatever’s holding them back. Whether this is in the first novella-length portion of the book with a man and his wife, the story about a book club with interpersonal problems, or something else entirely, we see people fail again and again—and a part of me feels hopeful because even in the face of disappointment, these characters keep trying.
The Story You Tell Yourself does a fantastic job of setting up the premises and piquing our interest early on in each story. The conversations between the characters are dry and engaging, like a Carver story, and it doesn’t take long to see there’s more meaning simmering beneath the surface of the text.
“Book Club” is one of the highlights in the collection. We’re placed in a small room
where there’s a definite power struggle between different women in a book club. As they interact, we quickly begin determining a hierarchy—but then a man arrives. He’s a new member and is immediately made into an outlier. His presence disrupts the order of the club, and we can see the dynamics shift.
It’s seemingly about an unimportant book club, but I was hooked because this minor addition to the club completely rattles the power structure that was previously established for this small slice of society. After I finished, I was left with an aftertaste of the story; it lingered with me for a week, popping into my head to remind me of Fern, Rose, and Frank, ultimately making me wonder, Did they ever work out whatever it was they needed to work out?
Again, the Iceberg Method seems simple, but it’s extremely difficult to pull off. While the character interactions are compelling in The Story You Tell Yourself, I found the endings to fall flat a bit too often. The setups pull us into the narratives, but by the end, they fizzle out without fully hitting home the point. The endings sort of drift off into the ether, without a climax or resolution that could have made them work.
I love the ambition, drive, and writing of The Story You Tell Yourself. It takes big swings with its stories and has plenty of strong concepts, even if its endings fall flat. When it pulls it off, it can be magical.
Genre: Literary / Short Story Collection
Print Length: 210 pages
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