About three quarters of the way through Miranda July’s collection of short stories, No one belongs here more than you, I had a funny reaction. I felt like her stories were too precious, too quirky, and, even, too naive in terms of characters and plot. On finishing, I got over this reaction. Call it a momentary bout of too much. July is a very talented writer and these short stories are crisp: succinct yet packed with poignant punch. But at moments they can be very, what shall I call it, LA Hipster? Her characters are far from ordinary, middle class people trying to make their way through life by very unordinary means.
One character, in “The Swim Team,” leads swimming lessons for a group of elderly people in Belvedere, Nevada. The only problem is there is no pool in the hamlet. Instead, the characters practice swimming on the narrator’s floor, pretending their way through all the different strokes. This story is almost magic realism, but more quirky than anything. This is both the collection’s strength and weakness. At some points, I felt like the stories were just too unbelievable or too obscure to be relatable. This is not to say that everything should be Carver-esque ordinary people or that all stories must be intensely realist. It is to suggest that July walks a very fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it with too much eccentricity. At times, No one belongs here more than you can feel like a really earnest but too quirky indie movie. At other times, it is breathtaking.
Maybe it comes down to the writing itself. “The Swim Team” is amazingly written. The whole story is only a few pages long, but it is framed by the narrator’s comments to some kind of ex-lover that she hopes will explain herself in some way. This seemingly insignificant plot device puts the entire narrative into a kind of temporary space more akin to folk tale or fable. Could the entire story just be something the narrator made up to make her ex-lover jealous or angry? Or does it hold truth? Or, perhaps, do questions like these miss the point entirely? Which might be that July is able to create magic out of the mundane.
Like her film Me and You and Everyone We Know, July is interested in moments of magic, be they obscure, naive, or implausible. “Mon Plaisir” is about a couple struggling to make meaning in their relationship but finding temporary inspiration in an afternoon when they act as extras on a film set. “Making Love in 2003” is about a young female writer’s attempt to get Madeleine L’Engle’s husband to read her now-complete manuscript after taking a class with him. “The Boy from Lam Kien” is about an agoraphobic woman who meets a young Vietnamese boy who then gives her house decorating tips which, in turn, frees her from her fear for a moment. These are well-written stories with a central hook (that can sometimes wear thin) that reward careful readings.
I would recommend this book to those interested in contemporary short stories or others looking for a unique reading experience.
July, Miranda. No one belongs here more than you. New York: Scribner, 2007. Print.