Review: Anyone familiar with Miranda July already knows of the themes she revisits time and time again, seen mostly in her albums and films. I adore this media artist for her take on post-human existence: the psychology of loneliness, surreal love, awkward intimacy and dead-end dialogue.
In her book of 16 short fiction stories, July romanticizes the odd idiosyncrasies of her funny little characters. Some stories are sad, some are erotic and several operate on deadpan humor like her film “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” All the stories inhabit a focused voice, even though the content may seem to wander the line of absurdity.
Praise: July has an understated way to explain the strangest of relationships. I enjoy her deadpan delivery and the fitting oddness of tediously regular people. My favorite story has to be the simplistic “The Man on the Stairs.” This story is about a woman who listens to a man creaking slowly up her stairs. The event sends her mind reeling back to how she met her husband and all the longing that comes with making mistakes.
Criticism: I’ve been a fan of Miranda July for years — I’ve listened to her albums and watched her films with affection. This book still reminds me of July but the themes don’t translate as well. A good handful of these stories are sweet and reveal the individual obsession and love that sustains us, but in most cases the attempt is too heavy-handed and the theme becomes overly self-conscious. At this point the story falls into a tangle of pointlessness and character-pitying.
One of the most important elements in fiction is effective dialogue; more than anything else, it can help develop a character. July forgot this fundamental rule, which is too bad because I liked her lines in her film career. It just doesn’t translate well in a story. July avoids dialogue in her stories like the plague. When she’s forced to have two characters chat, it’s very short, pointless and void of any traditional ornaments or attributions. This kind of cop-out makes me wonder where her rebelliousness as a writer pays off; the lack of attributions is confusing and a stylistic overkill.
Bottom Line: I cannot recommend this book. Not only was the writing pretentious, every story except one is written in the exact same perspective (a pretty, white, middle-class girl), doing little to vary the protagonists from each other.