The Reviewed: No one belongs here more than you. Stories by Miranda July
The Reviewer: Judy Clement Wall
I bought Miranda July’s short story collection, No one belongs here more than you for its cover. Which is funny because it’s yellow. Just that. Plain yellow, with the title and her name in black. I’d never heard of Miranda July, and I’ve never been overly fond of yellow, but it struck me as brave somehow, its blinding plainness. I picked it up and read the first sentence: “It still counts, even though it happened when he was unconscious.”
I was hooked. I read the book cover-to-cover in a weekend which I never do. That was a couple of summers ago. Recently I picked it up again. On a day when I felt overwhelmed and uninspired, I picked up No one belongs here more than you to feel the jolt of July’s writing, the lyrical strangeness, the unnerving sensuality, the funny, heartbreaking, tender way in which she lays open humanity for all of us to see.
The stories in this collection are so intimate, the characters so vulnerable and exposed, reading them feels voyeuristic. The second time through felt every bit as raw and surprising as the first. I was at once embarrassed and mesmerized. I squirmed over passages like this one from “The Shared Patio,” in which the narrator’s fierce loneliness is the driving force for everything that happens.
“I looked at the sky just to see what it felt like. I pretended I was pausing before telling him about the secret feeling of joy I hide in my chest, waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to notice that I rise each morning, seemingly with nothing to live for, but I do rise, and it’s only because of this secret joy, God’s love, in my chest.”
A woman teaches swimming lessons on her kitchen floor; a young teacher falls in love with her underage student while stalking Madeleine L’engle’s husband; an almost-perfect girl is made perfect with the removal of a port-wine birthmark that covers one cheek. It all seems normal, and odd, and extraordinary.
It is impossible to predict where a story will go, what a character will say or do. The best writers, I think, surprise readers while at the same time making what happens seem, in hindsight at least, inevitable. Miranda July doesn’t do that. Her characters feel so alive, so troubled and flawed and broken and fragile that when they act, there is always this sort of shadowy sense of what might have been. It’s as if the story you’re reading is just one out of the hundreds that could have unfolded, and those hundreds are all happening too, simultaneously, just out of sight.
Miranda July is a fearless artist. I’ve now read No one belongs here more than you twice, and I know I’ll read it again, because it wakes me up, makes me feel alive with the possibility of all that can be done with story, the messy, brutal, beautiful truth that can be revealed if you’re not afraid to write it.
Judy Clement Wall is restless, insatiably curious and prone to believing impossible things. You can find her here.