Sometime this summer the Internet developed a big, fat Web crush on Miranda July and the quirky little Web site she made pimping her short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You. I gotta admit, I crushed too. I eagerly anticipated the release of the collection. But as the buzz built my trepidation grew. Buzz things worry me. They put one in an awkward position. If you love the buzzed, then you’re just another pathetic hipster following the herd. If you hate the buzzed, you’re just another pathetic hipster following the other part of the herd.
When I got the book as an anniversary gift, I carefully put it on the dining room table with all the other books that haven’t been read or put away. I told myself I’d read it when I had reached the point where I couldn’t remember what the hell the buzz about the book was.
That time was last week. I’ve been in the mood for a good short story collection, having polished off two novels right in a row.
After finishing the collection, I can admit I still sort of have a crush on Miranda July. She’s like that guy who drives you batty with his cryptic actions that, depending on your mood, you can interpret into meaning he loves you and wants to spend the rest of his life with you or he can barely remember your name. Like this book, it’s damn frustrating.
July’s a great writer. She has the ability to convey emotions in a stark, simple way that still manages to kind of leave you breathless with the aptness of the words. However, I’m not so sure that July’s a great storyteller.
Lots of pretty, true words do not make a good story. A lot of the “stories” in No One Belongs Here More Than You read like writing exercises. They were a bunch of abstract, random thoughts put in the mouth of some unnamed character who lacked motivation, conflict, a reason for being.
To make things extra frustrating, July had to include a few kickass stories. Stories that were filled with characters at odds with the people in their lives, characters who wanted things and took action to get those things. When she writes full stories, July’s really fucking good.
She crafts these kind of sane, kind of crazy characters and puts them in great situations. She has one story about a woman who teaches swimming lessons in her kitchen, and another about a woman who masturbates while on the phone with her sister. Seriously, some of the stories ere just brilliant which makes the unevenness of the collection so damn frustrating.