Book Review: Readings

Miranda July

Readings

No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories

by Miranda July

Scribner, 205 pp., $23

As technology increasingly collapses barriers to the distribution of content and elides boundaries between artistic disciplines, the future is going to belong to people like Miranda July. Probably best known for writing, directing, and starring in 2005's indie fave Me and You and Everyone We Know, July is also a performance artist, an instigator of Web-based creative projects, and now a published author of a fresh and riveting collection of short fiction.

It's ironic that July made her major-motion-picture acting debut in a film adaptation of Denis Johnson's collection Jesus' Son, as it is to that book that No One Belongs Here More Than You can be most fruitfully compared. Johnson's and July's subject matters are different; Johnson mines the depths of heroin addiction, while July's stories revolve around an ultimately less pathological sense of loneliness and sexual longing. But like Johnson's stories, July's are filled with characters, usually women, separated from other people and cut off from what we might call normal life but all the while living so vividly inside their own skins that the language becomes supercharged with lucid insights and surprising turns of phrase. Add to that the kind of low-boil surrealism people familiar with July's other work have come to expect, and you have an amazing little jewel of a collection.

Even in stories with a more disquieting erotic bent, like "Something That Needs Nothing," about a naive young woman's downward spiral toward working in a porn-store peep booth, or "Making Love in 2003," about a young female writer's pursuit of both a fictional husband of author Madeleine L'Engle and a sexually molesting cosmic force incarnated in the form of a teen special-education student (you just have to read it), July's compassion and humanity are always present. And while the quirkiness present in Me and You and Everyone We Know is there in these stories, too, the overall mood is tempered by darker currents. In future collections, one might wish for more stories that made it difficult for the reader to project the author herself onto the role of the first-person narrators, but given how good these are, we can expect a lot more fiction from July. Along with this, that, and everything else.

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