Years ago, six years ago to be exact, I ran a short story reading challenge on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B.  I had a handful of participants, short stories are the red-headed step-child of the book blogosphere, but I like to think that everyone enjoyed it.  For that challenge I read a lot of stories by Miranda July.  She’s terrific.  A little odd, but terrific.  I decided to collect those reviews, some were very short, and put them all in one post here at James Reads Books.  Hope you like them, and that I can get one or two people to read Miranda July.

 

The Shared Patio

A woman lives alone in the apartment above a young couple. They share the garden patio. She is obsessive about making sure she uses the patio as much as the couple does, just to make sure it’s clear that she is entitled to. In time, she becomes obsessed with the male half of the couple, an attractive man she thinks is beyond her reach. One day he has an epileptic seizure while on the patio; instead of going for help, instead of applying some sort of first aid, she lies down next to him and falls asleep. She dreams that his hands touch her, that he tells he how much he loves her.

Miranda July does not write safe stories. The Shared Patio, the first story in her new book No One Belongs Her More Than You, covers often explored ground, a woman infatuated with a man she cannot have, but it quickly forces the reader out of their comfort zone. What begins as an almost typical woman’s story, a 1950’s film you might find Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman starring in, soon enters the uncomfortable emotional territory more typical of Carson McCullers. Ms. July’s characters make us uneasy because they don’t behave correctly and because they so frequently do the things that sometimes cross our minds, much to our own embarrassment.

 

Something That Needs Nothing

Miranda July often writes stories about strange forms of obsessive love, but she has not gone to this extreme before, not in No One Belongs Here More Than You anyway. “Something That Needs Nothing” takes love to the edge and over, way over.

The story concerns two girls, whom we follow into young adulthood. Pip and the narrator run away from home, though it may not be fair to call it that since no one is exactly chasing them. They end up in a flea bag room in Portland where they form a strange plan to make money; they advertise themselves as prostitutes in search of an elderly female client. Just when their money is about to run out, they finally get a client who pays them just enough to cover the rent.

Meanwhile, the narrator has become fascinated with the peep-shows in the seedier parts of town, but Pip will not let her work there. Pip is not someone you want to have as the object of your affection. She is unwilling to become physical with the narrator, most of the time, and eventually leaves her for another woman, one with enough money to support her. This being a Miranda July story, outright rejection is no detriment to love. The narrator takes a job at a peep-show and makes enough money to start making improvements on the apartment. Of course, she is only doing this for the day when Pip will return to her.

The two do eventually meet again, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Ms. July’s characters are extreme, without a doubt, more so in “Something That Needs Nothing” than they arein of the other stories I’ve read so far. But, again, Ms. July treats them with a compassion and understanding that can’t help but win over the reader. I hope I never fall in with people like Pip and the narrator of “Something That Needs Nothing” and I won’t even say that I came to like them, but I did come to see their point of view, to understand them. That should be worth something.

Miranda July has a fascinating website and she is one of the people behind Learning To Love You More one of the more interesting websites I’ve ever found.

 

This Person

What would you do if one day all your dreams came true? If suddenly everyone you knew recognized your genius and threw a big party in your honor? In her short story, “This Person”, Miranda July presents the story of one woman who gained it all and threw it away over a trifling unfinished task that wouldn’t stop nagging at her.

WARNING: The next paragraph contains a spoiler.

I find it difficult to explain why Miranda July’s stories affect me so deeply. “This Person” is no exception. Ms. July gives us a fantasy we’ve all probably had to some degree–everyone sees how great we’ve been all along, at work or school or in our family, and throws us a party to show how much they appreciate us. Perhaps a childish fantasy, but I think a common one. Wouldn’t it be great?

The title character in “This Person” gets the party and then walks out to check her post office box. She becomes so lost in her mail that she forgets about the party and goes home. When she realizes what she’s done it’s too late to go back to the party. Now, what will everyone think of her?

I don’t know what to think of her, but think of her I do, which is one reason why I like Miranda July’s stories so much.

 

The Sister

I took a chance and read this one out loud to C.J. I thought he might find Miranda July quirky enough to enjoy without being irritating. He did.

The story is narrated by an older man who has been single all his life and never really been in love. One of his co-workers promises to introduce him to his sister but never seems to pull it off. She is always running very late, or making last minute changes. The narrator becomes obsessed with the sister, actually starts to fall in love with her though he has never even seen a picture of her. (Falling in love, or obsessing over someone you’ve never met, is clearly a major theme for Ms. July.) The narrator here creates a teenage vision, someone’s sister is always a teenager in his mind’s eye. He begins to form a bond with the beautiful and elusive Blanca who is, of course, largely a figment of his imagination, never suspecting that his friend does not really have a sister, but does have ulterior motives. Readers may find the comic/tragic ending touching or disturbing or some of both, but there are several good laughs on the way which make “The Sister” well worth reading and Miranda July someone to keep your eye on.


Majesty

This is the third story from No One Belongs Here More Than You that has featured an unnamed female narrator. I’m beginning to see them all as the same woman, as the author actually. This is probably false, the well known authorial fallacy, but it’s also very hard to avoid. The narrators all share a certain inability to interact in a completely real world, in the real world. The first has a fantasy life that features the most profound love she as ever felt, the second coaches a swim team that has no pool, the third, the narrator of Majesty, has fallen in love with Prince William whom she knows she will never meet.

How the narrator plans to meet Prince William and her fantasies about this meeting make up half of the story’s narrative. The second half, interwoven with the fantasy, details her walks around town which she hopes will help her lose weight and make her more attractive to Prince William when they do eventually meet. It’s on these walks that the reality of her world forces itself in on her fantasy, with deadly consequences. All of this, is very strange; some readers may dismiss it as improbable fiction, but who hasn’t yearned for someone they could never hope to have? There is much more going on in Ms. July’s stories than first meets the eye, that’s for sure.
The Swim Team

A woman confesses to her ex-boyfriend that when she lived in Belvedere she was the coach of a swim team. Since Belvedere had no pool, her team met in her apartment where they lay on the kitchen floor practicing strokes with their faces in bowls of salted water. To practice their dives they jumped from a desk onto her double bed.

Is this confession true? One can see why she would not tell a current boyfriend about this, why it could be almost as shameful as a history of prostitution as the narrator suggests. But it’s also kind of wonderful in a very strange way. The narrator becomes friends with her swim team, they bond just like a real team would. At the same time, the story is a parody of sport stories, the kind where physical activity, dedication to an athletic goal produces a transformed character. Just how much better is learning to swim in actual water?

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