You don't necessarily expect a film director who at a young age meets with success of the Cannes/Sundance variety to then turn her attention to writing and publishing a book of short stories. If she does, you don't then expect it to be any good. But this has been the case for Miranda July, who followed up her 2005 film Me And You And Everyone We Know with a book of stories called No One Belongs Here More Than You. Oh, I forgot to mention, she also starred in a lead role in her own film. And as she discusses in the interview below, it's not like she was qualified.
The "chasm" between the expectations of the real world versus one's own inclinations as fodder for art is an idea I find deeply hopeful and inspiring. I generally don't buy the notion of suffering for one's art as a noble act. But at the same time I think some people do feel the need to experience these discrepancies close-up, even though they already know they exist, maybe because they exist. Day jobs can have value in this way, work can have value. And suffering those discrepancies can pay off, apparently. So it does make it more inspiring for me, too, to read a solid and unique collection of stories by someone who does not have an MFA or even a college degree. This feeling is not equivalent to me viewing higher education or MFA programs in a negative light at all, but it is important for me to see that someone from the "outside" can produce good, serious work. If this weren't the case, if I couldn't find any good examples of it, I might fear that the chasm was not navigable. I think Stephen Fry once said something about how we should support art precisely because it is completely useless. I respect the sentiment that I think is there, but disagree with the particulars. I don't believe that "fine art" is so fine that its wispy ethereal strands escape all true public notice. I don't think there is, or should be, such a difference between "fine" and "applied." Which is why I get especially excited about the work of someone like Miranda July.
The book itself reflects the idea of the "chasm." It seems to be kind of an exercise in matter-of-fact absurdity, meaning that the fiction is not exactly "realistic," though I think in some ways it questions the value of realism and "real life" in the first place. The characters are typically people who feel they have been stashed in a corner, that they have no true sense of belonging in the world. They often seem to doubt that they themselves are actual people while at the same time being faced head-on with the reality of their existence. They may gain a fragile bond with the rest of humanity through something that might at first seem trivial: a child, a crush, a birthmark. As in Me And You And Everyone We Know, the territory skirted is almost shockingly intimate without giving way to sentimentality. It suggests that the private ways in which people think and behave make some kind of sense. It demands our attention and requires us to acknowledge the situations of the characters, however initially bizarre they may seem. July's characters are for the most part presented without the ability to wipe clean the layer of silt settling just above the unconscious. I see this as being both a narrative device and also a suggestion that this layer of silt we most want to get rid of could be more important and valuable than we've wagered.
This book may not be the same as fabric coming out of a textile mill, it may not be considered as applicable to the real world, but in a way, it is. It has a physical presence beyond its binding and the feel and cut of the pages, because words are physical, too. And we use them all the time.
Excerpt from Simon and Schuster
Google Books preview
July on her new film, The Future, which premiered at Sundance this year: