Friday, February 27, 2009

From the Library: "No One Belongs Here More Than You" by Miranda July

When it was first released, No One Belongs Here More Than You, a slim and sleek volume of stories, was available in pink and yellow. Now in paperback, however, still slim and sleek, it comes in four bright colors. And though that description could also easily work to open a review of naughty selections at truck stop bathrooms and seedy downtown shops, it works tremendously well here, too, considering the numerous times sex (and derivations thereof) plays into Miranda July’s debut collection. For anyone who has seen July’s 2005 full-length film You and Me and Everyone We Know this may very well not come as a surprise since sexual deviance is explored by many (if not all) of that film’s characters. If there is a constant to July’s off-the-wall work, then, it seems to be an investment in confirming that the abnormal is actually commonplace.

July herself (who once lived in SE Portland and would walk aimlessly up and down Division in the rain) is the sheer embodiment of awkwardness. She’s lanky, weird (though this could just as easily be aloofness or brilliance), has a shaky voice, and stares as though she is constantly lost (see photo above). In sum, she's wholly ethereal and waifish, but even so, there is something undeniably likeable about her, which must also be said of her stories. July’s writing is sometimes as awkward as she is, but its strangeness strikes a chord.

The stories in No One are all built on giddiness and straightforward honesty. Many of them seem as though they might collapse at any second (some of them do), but several do not and rather successfully ponder various internal dilemmas. In “The Shared Piano,” for example, a woman has no idea how to comfort or protect her neighbor, on whom she has a secret crush, when he unexpectedly begins convulsing. In fact, the narrator's decision at the height of the drama of this man's imminent death is to fall asleep and dream that he is caressing her breasts. In another story, a man is duped by his long-time coworker into taking Ecstasy and exploring, however reluctantly, his latent homosexuality in a painfully weird scene. In yet another, a woman dreams of being undressed and licked by Prince William. The list goes on.

The danger of all this crazy sex and weird arousal, frustration, and experimentation is that it becomes July’s schtick, not unlike gore and porn have become Chuck Palahniuk’s. The collection itself straddles a fine line between gimmicky and good, but its wonderful moments (of resonant uncertainty and recognizable humor) are worth wading through the weirdness to experience.


  1. I have yet to read her book, but oh does she make me swoon. Sigh.

  2. What a well-observed description of MJ's writing in this book. It's like a series of minor epiphanies that are always just about to explode into revelations or to collapse into oblivion. I read the book 7 or 8 months ago, and I'm still thinking about it.