Other People We Married – by Emma Straub

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As someone who adored Straub’s most recent book, Modern Lovers, I savored the best stories in this compendium of vignettes. While there were twelve short stories, my favorite four are highlighted below.

“Other People We Married”

The eponymous tale was my favorite of the bunch, and by no narrow margin.

This story unfolds the romance between Steven and Laura, a widower and widow. Their connection is unexpectedly kindled through a support group for survivors of deceased spouses. And it’s the memory of those spouses that ultimately extinguishes the flame.

Their burgeoning relationship is hindered (at least for Laura) by the other people they had married. Steven had been – well not married to, but dating – a blonde marathoner before being fatally hit by a bus. Meanwhile, Laura’s late husband died from cancer.

As Laura and Steven navigate the terrain of their relationship, she is plagued by the knowledge that they would each be with their previous mates if it wasn’t for their untimely deaths. Straub artfully describes how “if the four of them had all been in a room together, breaking the laws of time and space, the original pairings would have prevailed.”

This most unromantic love story found a special corner in my heart.

“Pearls”

Describes how Franny and Jackie, two friends in their first year of college – go on a trip to Florida together. Although simply friends, sexual tension develops between them, coming to a head with a kiss between the two. But once this precipice is reached, that energy dissipates, and they never speak of the experience again, seeming to choose silence over exploration.

“A Map of Modern Palm Springs”

A story of two grown sisters who go to Palm Springs for a vacation together – and still wear the hats of “big sister” and “little sister.” Relatable for any adult who has felt infantilized by a family member.

“Some People Really Must Fall in Love”

A professor has an inappropriate crush on a freshman student. It’s nice to see the reversal of an otherwise overtrodden trope.

 

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