I woke at seven A.M. and said to myself: This is the second day of the rest of my life. It's not one thing in particular, it's just the sensation of being adrift. As if the boat became unmoored two days ago and I am now on a voyage. I'm trying to notice everything, like a tourist would, even though it's all familiar.
In Miranda July's collection of stories, 'No One Belongs Here More Than You', most characters are adrift and most of them know it about themselves. And with the typical kind of endearing humor, naive and full of wonder, that July showed before in her film 'Me and You and Everyone We Know' (see earlier post), they devise elaborate and often absurd strategies to find anchorage somewhere. It's not even that they completely believe in their own ideas, they just vaguely realize that in a weird and awkward world where everyone is adrift, one world view is as valid (and absurd) as another.
In the story 'The Swim Team', for instance, a woman gives swimming lessons in her kitchen, and the role of swim coach lends meaning to her life, in spite of the absurd circumstances. Or perhaps the circumstances, the collective make-belief of this swim team, really provide the necessary 'teambuilding' for these people to get together at all.
I admitted these were not perfect conditions for learning to swim, but, I pointed out, this was how Olympic swimmers trained when there wasn't a pool nearby. Yes yes yes, this was a lie, but we needed it because we were four people lying on the kitchen floor, kicking it loudly as if angry, as if furious, as if disappointed and frustrated and not afraid to show it. The connections with swimming had to be enforced with strong words.
Still, beneath all the comic situations there always lurks a pathetic sadness, reminiscent of the films of Todd Solondz, a deep disillusionment with the world and the characters' place in it. You can just picture them repeating 'No one belongs here more than you' to themselves like a mantra, until they are almost, but never entirely convinced.
One of the most poignant examples is 'The Boy from Lam Kien', which describes an encounter between an agoraphobic woman (who says it's not agoraphobia because she only gets frightened after 27 steps away from her house) and a boy from a next-door beauty salon called Lam Kien. (The story's title, by the way, beautifully conveys the distance and alienation the main character feels to the world.) The woman and the boy have a conversation on the sidewalk, 27 steps from her house. They talk about pets, and the woman remarks:
- I'm not sure I could care for a pet. I travel a lot.
- But you could get a very little pet that wasn't very hungry.
I knew all about those things that weren't very hungry; my life was full of them. I didn't want any more weaklings who were activated by water and heat but had no waste and were so small that when they died, I buried them only with forgetfulness.
Later, after this inconsequential yet somehow meaningful encounter, the woman is back alone in her house.
I shut my door and listened to the sucking sound. It was the sound of Earth hurtling away from the apartment at a speed too fast to imagine. And as all of creation pulled away in this tornado-like vortex, it laughed -- the sarcastic laugh of something that has never had to try.
To get a further taste of these stories, a couple of them are available online:
Also, be sure to check out the great book website, which is a piece of art in itself.