Remember “))<>(( Forever” ?
Written by Bwog Staff
In which Bwog freelancer Justin Goncalves reviews the newest egg from an odd duck.
Before reading No one belongs here more than you, I fell in love with Miranda July. I was prepared to steal her away from her boyfriend (Thumbsucker director Mike Millis) and live with her in Portland. She would stay upstairs, working on her short stories or her performance art or even some new movie script; I would be downstairs, being Miranda July’s husband. The world would be a genuinely better place. Sure, this is kind of weird, but it wasn’t until I started reading her recently published collection that I realized that this fantasy fits right alongside July’s other short stories—except I would have to be a woman, she would have to be a lesbian, and anything sexual would be completely and unequivocally apocalyptic.
Much like her 2006 award-winning film Me and You and Everyone We Know, July fosters a relationship between the audience and characters that is as disturbing as it is heartwarming. July’s strength, and ultimately the most compelling aspect of No one, is her ability to imagine people. Each personality, from the swim-instructor giving lessons in her kitchen to the wig-wearing lesbian who makes a living through peep shows, is created as a full blooded person, not just a set of attributes. The complexities and nuances of even the most bizarre characters allow for an effortless suspension of disbelief. You’ll find yourself personally invested in a character, even when you’re sure that you would never root for a failed author as she attempts to woo the sixteen year-old boy/man of her dreams (you say that now).
The two strongest pieces are also the collection’s longest, each a little over thirty pages. “Something Out of Nothing,” previously published in both Bridge and The New Yorker, serves as No one’s cornerstone, showcasing July’s ability to create a character and follow him or her—her in this case—through profoundly difficult times. Unlike her shorter pieces, July has given herself the time to really build a character: a first person portrait skillfully intermixed with anecdotes and flashbacks. The narrator, Gwen—the name given to both her peep show persona and a lone wooden post in her apartment—chronicles the unrequited adoration of her best friend, Pip, from adolescence to Portland.
“Making Love in 2003,” previously published in The Paris Review, features a mildly psychotic budding author with quite a literal attraction to the supernatural. In the beginning, our nameless narrator is attempting to reunite with a former college advisor regarding her new book about her sexual experience with a black ectoplasm named Steve, but instead sits down and talks with his wife, Madeleine L’Engle (yes, that one). It’s hard not to sympathize with this narrator even when her search for the ectoplasm’s past affection leads her to pedophilia. The lack of a name for her protagonist doesn’t inhibit July’s genius for realistically grounding her expansive imagination.
Unfortunately for the reader (and for July’s collection) many of the pieces of shorter fiction never establish this connection, meandering about in the same anonymous narrative that never gives itself the opportunity to develop, leaving you somehow unfulfilled and sometimes even profoundly bored. “The Man on the Stairs,” “This Person,” and “The Moves” are all flawed attempts at some universality that instead comes across as vague. It reminds me of this interview with Rivers Cuomo I read after Weezer had released their self-titled “Green Album,” in which Cuomo explained his intention to write pop songs about love and emotional turmoil that everyone can relate to. The album kind of sucked. He was better off writing about falling for someone that only existed in his dreams or, in July’s terms, a lesbian. Because, believe it or not, on some level that’s where we can all relate.