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Blurring Reality and Irrationality

by Allison Singer, Copy Editor

Miranda July's brilliant work.
In the introduction to his 1985 novel, Skeleton Crew, Stephen King writes that “a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” If that’s true, then Miranda July’s first collection of short fiction, entitled No One Belongs Here More Than You (Scribner 2007), is a full-on makeout session where each “kiss” leaves you with a strange, yet not necessarily unpleasant, aftertaste.

July won the 2007 Frank O’Connor award for short fiction with No One Belongs Here More Than You, and Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), a double-length feature film which July wrote and directed, did fabulously in indie circles; portions of the script were included in Dave Egger’s The Best American Non-Required Reading 2006. Readers are eating her new collection up, praising July as the next Lorrie Moore and comparing her humor to that of George Saunders. One look at the four – yes, four – pages of blurbs in the front matter of the book from reputable publications and writers will assuage any hesitant reader’s fears.

The first story in the collection, “The Shared Patio” holds nothing back, giving an honest dose of what to expect in the coming tales. When a tenant of the apartment below our lonely narrator has a seizure on the porch, the narrator reacts in an unconventional way. Rather than call for help, she calmly rests her head on his shoulder and dreams of him telling her how perfect she is: “It’s in each thing that you do,” she imagines him telling her. “I watch you when you hang your bottom over the side of the bathtub to wash it before bed. … From now on I am yours.”

The man’s wife is none-too-happy when she comes home to find her husband in a near-catatonic state with the neighbor cuddled-up cozy. But that’s just how it is in July’s stories: Reality, or the world outside of how the narrator sees reality, holds little importance.

Threads of loneliness, distance, and – above all – the ongoing struggle between sex and love run through each story in this collection. July’s characters desperately want to belong, and to connect. Doesn’t everyone? However, while these characters in July’s collection have the common human condition of continuously wanting to be wanted, they go about achieving their desires in peculiar ways.

Readers can see the characters near insanity as they both move toward and distance themselves from loving relationships. However, the characters almost always dismiss their own bizarre actions as perfectly acceptable. A special-needs teacher, for example, qualifies her sexual relationship with a 14-year-old autistic boy using her firm belief he is the reincarnation of the “energy burst” that repeatedly had its way with her in high school. Perfectly normal, no? In another story, a woman suffers from an unhealthy obsession with Prince William and has a reoccurring daydream where she entices him to nuzzle her breasts in an English bar. Do her thoughts or, later, unorthodox actions concern her? Of course not.

July has a way of making her readers feel as if they are the odd-men-out, rather than the eccentric people populating her fiction. But, when taken with a grain of salt and a suspension of moral reality, these stories actually reinforce what so many want desperately to believe: It is our birthright, as human, to love and be loved. Does it truly matter how this birthright is claimed? July takes this question into her own hands and has come out with a cryptic, sexy, intriguing answer that leaves us stunned, yet perhaps still in the dark.

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