When you finish reading Miranda July’s excellent collection of stories, you may find yourself wanting to wear the book. You might want to buy the Braille edition so you can feel the words touching your skin. And this will not feel wrong; you will not feel strange doing this because July has shown you a world where a person wearing a book instead of clothes is entirely normal. This is a world where a dying father passes onto his daughter the 12 finger moves he uses to bring a woman to orgasm; a world where a room full of women with napkins on their faces learn about the illusion of romance; a world where a woman believes her teenage lover, not a real boy, just a dark shape, has come back to her as one of her special needs students.
Yes, this is a highly inventive debut anthology from the actor, performance artist and award-winning filmmaker of indie hit ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know.’ In fact this collection feels a lot like 16 new bite-size ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’s. Like the film, her stories are concerned with longing; characters longing to be understood, longing for acceptance, longing to be loved. Lonely people inhabit this book, lonely people living in bizarre interior worlds, struggling to connect with others. In ‘Majesty’ a middle-aged woman from Sacramento obsessed with Prince William, dreams up odd ways to meet and have sex with him. ‘The Sister’ is an aging man’s fantasy about the (non-existent) sister of a co-worker he’s known for over twenty years. In ‘The Swim Team’ a young woman living alone in a tiny landlocked town that isn’t a town, teaches three of its citizens to swim… in her living room.
Key to this offbeat and observant collection is July’s ability to surprise. She is adept at handling contradiction. She introduces us to idiosyncratic characters and puts them in odd situations without the stories ever feeling unreal or fanciful. And it’s this contradiction, this constantly being presented with the unexpected, that’s the source of much of the humour in the book; a humour that saves us from being overwhelmed by the characters’ sadness and disappointment.
These stories are about what it’s like to be human; they are about you and me. What these characters are feeling, bizarre as the circumstances may be at times, are feelings with which we’re all familiar or can empathise. July reminds us that people, our lives, are not so very different. No one is above sadness or suffering. And she understands this because July is fascinated by people. Yes these stories are whimsical and playful but at the same time they are firmly rooted in the reality of human nature. July not only understands people but she cares about them too, which is why, in most cases, the stories have a sense of hope. Having laid all this pain and sadness before us, she leaves us with the hope that these characters, no matter how fucked-up, will be okay.
July gives us this hope because she cares about us too, or that’s how it feels because her writing creates an intimacy with the reader. The engaging storytelling style makes the stories feel like the narrators are talking directly to us. Her writing too is focussed, spare and precise. She tells the tale then she’s outta there, giving us just what we need to know to put us right in the moment with the characters. And July is a crafter of words, able to capture the essence of a moment, sometimes the whole story in a single sentence:
‘I wondered if I would spend the rest of my life inventing complicated ways to depress myself’.
‘I whispered it’s not your fault. Perhaps this was really the only thing I had ever wanted to say to anyone, and be told.’
This book then is a highly creative and compassionate collection from a writer with a strong, original voice. There is definitely much more to come from July the fiction writer. ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’ feels like a test-bed for something much more weighty and ingenious. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go change into this book, preferably the Braille edition…
About the author:
Melissa Mann is a writer, founder/managing editor of litzine Beat the Dust and BTD TV and lead singer of the legendary punk folk band The Holy Whores. Okay, well the first two are true at least; the latter is just a figment of her imagination. Adventurous types wanting to explore Melissa’s imagination should head due north to www.melissamann.com equipped with all-terrain boots and a torch. Her work can also be read in a number of online and print literary publications including Dogmatika, The Laura Hird Showcase, Outsider Writers, Six Sentences, Thieves Jargon, Straight from The Fridge, The Beat, Open Wide Magazine, Savage Manners, litup magazine, The Smoking Poet, Literary Tonic, Gold Dust and very soon, Zygote in my Coffee.