Through most of Miranda July’s book of short stories No One Belongs Here More Than You I was having serious creative writing major flashbacks to the mid-1990s. I had spent my 18 years before college wrapped in Catholic school bubble wrap. Everyone’s life seemed a little more interesting than mine, which made their stories more interesting than mine. At least that’s what I assumed. I never understood what the hell anyone was talking about. When I don’t get it, it must be good, right?
The truth is, I don’t like most contemporary short stories. They feel contrived and purposefully engineered to be “out there” or inaccessible. This is a problem with all but two and a half of the stories in this collection.
Miranda July’s stories are like that: A false quirky or cool that becomes standoffish or boring. In “The Swim Team,” the main character teaches some elderly townies how to swim in her living room. They use bowls of water to practice breathing. One of the men has a fierce breaststroke that propels him across the floor. In another, a woman lays in bed with her boyfriend, sure that there is a slow-moving man on the stairs who is going to kill her. In another, she turns Madeline L’Engle into a fictitious character.
I kept thinking “But why?” and “What does this mean?” and then the eye rolling and remembering that this is just what some people do: insert whoa-what-the-hell stuff. It’s like someone’s square brain trying to fit into my circle brain hole. Or having lunch with a stranger who’s personality that is just a crank off from your’s and impossible to sync to, despite perhaps even having things in common.
Also, her boy-voice sounds like a girl.
Things changed for the better at “Mon Plaisir,” a story where a couple works as extras in a film and find that feigning a romantic dinner in the background is different than doing it for real. It’s a nice story, told well with funny dialogue, and just the kind of nontraditional, whoa-what-the-hell sex scene that actually works here and only here.
But the best story is the last story, “How to Tell Stories to Children,” where a woman becomes a sort of second-mother to her former lover’s child — but I’m not sure what she did differently here other than she tells a good story in the same way she tells the ones that aren’t.