revew: Miranda July – No one belongs here more than you.
No one belongs here more than you./
by Miranda July/
published by SCRIBNER/
In the course of reading No one belongs here more than you., I feel like I am getting to know someone. I feel like they are a person I can relate to intensely, that they are someone I would neither wish to be or particularly need to know but to find their inner thoughts put down in front of me is somehow very comforting.
I’m certain it’s all an illusion. I suppose a book is a peculiar concentrated thing, like a character, or a person. The way it exists in the world, with a person’s name on the front of it, like a hello my name is badge – “Oh yes, I’ve got Miranda July on my shelf.” – helped by most of the stories being in first person and about women, like the real Miranda July is. And the lie of its existence is muddied by the honesty of its storytelling, of the truth of the ways I have felt before and things I have handled out in the world that my body remembers happening to it. I can think of No one belongs… as made up of echoes. Some of the echoes are people, some of the echoes are things they do and some are things they feel or ways they are looking at the world.
There’s the delicate, harmless and tragic interactions of stories like The Boy from Lam Kien and The Swim Team, and the understated sexual exploitation of Something That Needs Nothing and Making Love in 2003. The collection is about so many characters with so much distance between them, and in that hollow are echoes. July writes relationships between distant people who do cruel things to and with each other without malice or intent or largely even consequence. In The Sister, there’s a sort of centripetal loneliness that draws characters tumbling together. As if they had no say in the matter, as if they could give or take the result. As if life is just fine, I guess.
I’ve been recommending this book to friends and describing the behaviour of the stories’ heroines as ‘sociopathic, but not in a toxic way.’ Maybe this is a misuse of the term, but July’s voice feels persistently like that of an observer, someone who understands how society works but only on a surface level. Frequently, the narrators feel out-of-body, as if their behaviour is something they just happen to see themselves doing. The collection is unembodied. It is a book, of course. Why should it be embodied. Why do I notice that some printed bits of ink on a page don’t feel like they inhabit a feelingness. It’s strange and I think a compliment to say that I am wholly immersed in the stories and their tellers without feeling like the tellers themselves are. Maybe that’s another note on distance; is it that the narrators are as separate from their actions as I am, as a reader. Are the narrators more readers of their own lives than actors.
There’s a kinship with the sharply observant outsiders of July’s collection and one of the greatest poems ever written, ‘my cat is sad.’, by Spencer Madsen. And the fact that I can relate so much to a cat that I’ve only ever read a photo of the imagined words of maybe says something interesting about empathy. A well executed piece of writing is a successful illusion. It encourages me to believe that I have read something and that the thing I have read has made me feel. But I think I would still feel things were I never to read again. I think reading things gives me an excuse to feel things. Maybe the lack of overt feeling in Miranda July’s collection gives me enough of a void between my character and hers that I can stick a flag say “this collection made me reflect on sadness and loneliness and distance” – which is a far stronger conversation opener than “hello I am sad and lonely and distant.”
I think as much as having a name to stamp on a book cover is a prop to begin with, the book inside is a prop, too. Only a more versatile prop because in theory more people can have ownership over their reading of a book than have ownership over what the names Miranda July or James Varney might mean.
I don’t know if the implication is that I am as scared and liminal as they are, or I am just ok and it’s a little reassuring to read about scared, liminal people.
I think I feel less lonely, reading about loneliness. Is that ironic.