Miranda July is an interesting case, isn’t she? Sometimes I don’t know what to make of her and her work, and I find that she can be pretty divisive. There are some that find her to be gentle, profound, unique, and have a strong voice, while others may find her to be too whimsical, awkward, etc. And I happen to be right in the middle. I absolutely adore some of her work, but other times I just can’t connect with it and think, “Okay… that’s enough of you for a while.” And while the collection of stories in No One Belongs Here More Than You had a few short stories that really struck me, overall there were more misses than hits, and I couldn’t help but feel like everything in it was slowly dragging me down.
It is true that July has a distinct voice, and there is a skill to capturing small, single moments in a way that make you see them as so significant. In many instances, however, these moments in July’s stories center around her character’s sensuality or instances of sexual intimacy, which more often than not came across as somewhat awkward to me, which made me feel awkward reading them. And that is not to say I am uncomfortable reading about sex in any way, but in this case I was simply put off by something in almost all of the pieces included in this collection. In a way, I guess, I could only handle reading about and imagining so many uncomfortable women (and one, singular male protagonist), slowly and knowingly walking towards their own self-destruction, or into a place of more confusion and unknowing than they started in, but not in a inspirational way: in a disconcerting way. Though through some reflection, perhaps I feel a bit put-off by this behavior due to recognizing my own manner of working through life and issues, which may or may not follow a similar pattern. Yikes.
Yet, amongst all the other seeming misses and inclusions I just couldn’t connect with, there was one longer story around the middle of the book that really struck me for some reason, titled: “Something that Needs Nothing.” This story focuses on two teenage girls who run away from their suburban lives to live together in the city. The phases and realizations in their relationships and the way in which the protagonist found strengths and weaknesses made me think of things that, while not exactly the same, bore resemblances to my own life. I was even inspired to write a poem (which may later become a song??) about the things and feelings this story brought up in my own mind. And it’s kind of powerful when you can be inspired to make your own creative response to the work of someone else (kind of like how a dancer may be moved to choreograph in a particular way after hearing a certain piece of music).
The fact remains, however, that overall I did not find No One Belongs Here More Than You to be a very strong collection of short stories. And that is a shame, seeing as I really thought I was going to like it more than I did after having been exposed to some of July’s work before. Though perhaps it was the fact that many of the narrative voices came across as the same to me, and after a number of stories and a number of different characters, it all just felt a little flat. Or maybe it was the fact that I could be intrigued and immersed in a tale, only to come upon a line that I wish was never included, or drew me out of the story completely with the way it came across. I guess there are a lot of things that are keeping me from really loving this collection by July, save for a few of the brief pieces included.
In any case, here are a few quick lines about what/who each of the remaining stories in the collection focus on:
- “The Shared Patio”: a woman becomes transfixed by the man who lives in the building below her and yearns for a relationship with him.
- “The Swim Team”: a young woman reflects on the time she taught a group of older people how to swim without a swimming pool.
- “Majesty”: a woman fantasizes about one of the royal princes and imagines how she might meet him on day.
- “The Man on the Stairs”: a woman hears someone slowly coming up her stairs in the middle of the night and contemplates how to face him.
- “The Sister”: an older man hopes to meet a co-worker’s sister in order to form a relationship with her, yet the sister is elusive to meet.
- “This Person”: a hypothetical person has a celebration thrown in their honor, yet this individual wants to do nothing but retreat into themselves.
- “It Was Romance”: a woman goes to a class to learn how to be romantic, yet finds that perhaps romance is not necessarily what we think it is.
- “Something That Needs Nothing”: as described above, the relationship between two young girls who run away together.
- “I Kiss a Door”: a woman learns a secret about a past friend of hers.
- “The Boy From Lam Kien”: a woman lets a young neighborhood boy spend time examining her world.
- “Making Love in 2003”: a young woman wants to publish a story of a dark being she was once intimate with, only to find herself believing that one of her students is this same being reborn.
- “Ten True Things”: a woman takes a sewing class to try and get to know her boss’ wife better.
- “The Moves”: a young woman reflects on the lessons her father taught her regarding having sex with a woman.
- “Mon Plaisir”: a couple who have been together for a long time decide to become background actors together as a way to make their relationship more interesting.
- “Birthmark”: a woman removes a large birthmark from her face, only to contemplate on what this action means and how her identity is still tied to this mark she once had.
- “How To Tell Stories To Children”: a woman becomes like a second mother to a child of her friend, which is inevitably a strange family situation.
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