Believe the Indie Hype? Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You
There's a lot of hype around indie-artist queen Miranda July. Pages of praise for her book from big names like Dave Eggers, George Saunders, and Amy Hempel prove just how popular she really is. If you're anything like me, you'll naturally be suspicious of such popularity. But even so, I've found that if you ignore all the hype and read without bias, you'll actually enjoy No One Belongs Here More Than You.
July's short stories are filled with strange characters. They're frequently awkward, lonely, and deluded, seeing signs of love and destiny in the smallest, and most irrelevant, of details — i.e. the shared understanding of the word typo ("The Shared Patio") or the meeting of someone with a generic first name of a past lover ("Making Love in 2003"). Just as frequently, over the course of a story, they're inevitably faced with reality. But these aren't stories of redemption; these characters don't take action and rise above their falls. Instead, these characters do one of two things: They either try to cope -- specifically with the help of another woman ("It Was Romance") -- or else settle in the rubble of personal tragedy, rendering themselves socially paralyzed.
But don't get the wrong idea: While these stories are full of sadness and loneliness, they are quite funny. Like her movies, these stories are dominated by July's characters' odd logic -- something that could easily spell trouble for a book. But instead, with July's knack for quirky humor, she smoothly charms you into her bizarre world, and rather than questioning the characters' plausibility, you're left simultaneously laughing and feeling for each one of them.
A notable story, "Mon Plaisir," follows a married couple, who favor only the "MEANINGFUL" things in life, and who are in trouble. They've long ago lost that ever-elusive "spark" in their marriage. One day, in an attempt to "move to the next level," they arrange to play extras in a movie. In the wonderful scene that ensues, July juxtaposes moments of filming with moments of not filming, giving two pictures of the couple -- first, who they play in the movie; and second, who they are in real life. No longer able to hide behind Buddhism or eating right or the internal landscape, they, too, must face reality.
After reading No One Belongs Here More Than You, there's no question: July lives up to the hype. There's no moonlighting here; it's the real thing. With her idiosyncratic voice, and fresh visions and characters, Miranda July not only knows how to evoke a great range of emotions, but also how to tell a great story. And now the only question we're asking ourselves is: Between her performance art, screenplays, music, acting, and directing, just when should we anticipate a follow-up book?