No one belongs here more than you

Miranda July


There's more than a temptation to hate this book. First of all, Miranda July's already a Jane-of-all-artistic-trades as a performance artist/screenwriter/actress. Does anybody deserve to be credited with so much talent? Secondly, almost all these stories center on a moral awkwardness sexual in nature, and because of this—at least on the surface—July's tales won't endear themselves to many readers. Among the highlights: one man seduces another through a barrage of psychological manipulations, a teacher sleeps with her student (and not just any student, but a special needs kid), a family counselor hooks up with a former pre-teen patient, and at least one young woman sells her body just to pay the rent. Despite all this, No one belongs here more than you is simply irresistible, charming in a way that makes you look over your shoulder to make sure nobody sees you enjoying yourself so much, because of what you're reading after all. For a debut collection, July manages to do what most cannot: Of the sixteen stories gathered here, she crafts a collective consciousness. And it's a consciousness that allows her to, if not humanize, at least let us fully see inside the strange and active imaginations of her protagonists, and to do so with our judgment held in reserve. Six of these stories are unforgettable: “The Swim Team” (lacking a pool, a woman gives swimming lessons in her home), “Something That Needs Nothing” (two young girls set off to make their mark on the world and end up doing so on each other), “The Boy from Lam Kien” (a fairy tale), “Making Love in 2003,” (perhaps the most wildy imaginative tale of the book—see at least one of the above plotlines), “Mon Plaisir” (an interesting twist on the usual break-up saga), and “How to Tell Stories to Children” (one woman, despite her dedication as a friend and surrogate mother to a friend's daughter, learns a hard lesson in the nature of love.) What makes all of these stories must-reads is that, despite their darkness, July always maintains her wonderfully quirky sense of humor, her precise gift of comic-timing. July's greatest strength, though, is also her greatest weakness. Because no matter how much she lets us understand these folks on the fringe, no matter how much she redeems some of them, not all are worthy of redemption, and after awhile, the collective consciousness she crafts becomes somewhat predictable. A little more variety would have made this book spotless. But it's a first book. To expect spotlessness would be expecting too much.

--Jay Robinson