Review: “No one Belongs Here More Than You” by Miranda July

Miranda July’s collection of short stories, titled “No one Belongs Here More Than You” has been met with critical acclaim, and even won the 2007 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Yet whilst July’s writing demonstrates passages of brilliance, these burst forth into the stories with an undeniable sense of urgency, and upon their entry, survey their surroundings, and slowly fade back out. It is as if someone who has walked into the wrong classroom has only realised their mistake too late, and has come face-to-face with the bemused and curious glances of Renaissance Drama students when really they should have walked – midway – into a Modern and Contemporary Poetry lecture. In light of this, the student gently backs out, shutting the door behind them as if nothing ever happened.

These moments – scattered through this collection – makes the sense that these stories want to be something more than they currently are. There is this underlying feeling whilst you read that these stories aren’t quite satisfying their full potential, that they want to veer off down another route, but the writer forcefully reigns them back in. The Modern and Contemporary Poetry student, in the height of their embarrassment, daringly considers just sitting down at the back of the class, even with everyone looking them, and enduring the whole lesson under the pretence that they are actually supposed to be there. Yet the professor, ankle resting on the knee, gently places down their Renaissance Drama anthology, and looks pointedly at the intruder. Perhaps something is said, along the lines of “can I help you?” or, maybe, the intensity of the gaze is enough to deter the interrupter and force them to hastily shuffle out of the door. Either way, these strange little moments are fleeting, resisted by the writer, and leaves one feeling that an opportunity was missed by not inviting them in and seeing what bizarre situations may unfold from doing so.

July’s language also follows a similar pattern. Her writing talks, well enough, but does not sing. The language is largely functional, serving as a background as it moves the characters through the narrative. Occasionally, the odd sentence feels linguistically misplaced by way of a more heightened use of language than the rest of the story previously allows for, once again contributing to this overarching sense of missed development.

In addition, the situations the characters find themselves in are often bizarre – yes, and notably so – yet the characters themselves feel, once again, very out-of-place. Each of the characters seems to lack a distinctive, individual voice. The outcome frequently leads one to believe it is the same character, with only a few minor details altered here and there. Because of this, the stories rapidly start to feel repetitive, and one can easily loose engagement with them.

Overall, July’s writing has the potential to be something brilliant and utterly – yet wonderfully – bizarre, if only she would allow these small moments a little more autonomy in leading the direction of the stories down even more intriguing paths. For a first collection, however, it is an impressive debut, and bodes well for later collections.

★★★

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Review: “Shelter 2: Mountains”

The world of Might and Delight’s Shelter 2 is barren but beautiful. Unlike its predecessor, Shelter, the open world set-up creates a stark and unforgiving landscape, where the possibility that anything could happen, might happen.

In the first game of this series, Shelter, it was very much about the experience of survival and parenthood in a world where everything is a threat. Its linear corridors that wind you – mother Badger – down a scripted set of events helped reinforce the brutality of nature, and the struggle that life faces against it.

Shelter 2 took the successful aspects of the first game – the intent to survive, and successfully raise a whole new generation who would endure all the hardships you yourself have faced – and built upon it further. The idea broke open into a fully realised world, where you – as a new mother Lynx – could traverse where you wished in a barren landscape. Unlike Shelter, Shelter 2 felt as if every decision you made decided on the fate of your kittens. If you head out into an open expanse, only to find food scarce there, you risk your kittens dying of starvation. If you wander too deep into the unknown of the forest, you risk loosing one of your offspring to the darkness. If you migrate over to the ice plains, in search of the herds of deer your mother before you used to hunt, you risk being hunted down by a pack of wolves.

Kits

It’s this sense of desolation in the Shelter 2’s world that leads to moments of sheer desperation. You abandon your kits in a mad dash to catch a rabbit. You are led too far, you don’t catch it, and you’ve run out of breath. You have been separated from your kits. And one of them doesn’t come when you call. By the time you reach it, without food, it dies.

deadbird

The urgency the gameplay forces you into is its strongest feature. You understand that survival sometimes depends on risk, and can come at great cost if it doesn’t pay off. This is where the first DLC for this game – Mountains – comes into play. Suddenly, you find your largely barren world populated with even more threats, and unlike before, they are not location specific. Bears, foxes and birds of prey are now randomised throughout the world, and the distinction between prey and predator becomes blurred. Foxes will make off with your young whilst your back’s turned. If you catch and kill it in time, you have the opportunity to save your taken kit. The same rules applies to birds of prey, which appear without notice, and dive down towards you. You have to attack to prevent it from taking off with another infant.

Bird

The world still feels similarly desolate – and food is still a limited resource – but now, more than ever, you are forced to constantly look back to where your kits are trailing behind in fear that something is attempting to creep up and snatch one. You call out to them far more than you used to, so that you can keep them closer. You fear risking a mad dash at a herd of deer even more than you did before, because a bird, or a fox, could take one, and you’d be too far away to prevent it – or even give chase.

Bears are an equally terrifying encounter. They can knock you unconscious, and whilst you’re out cold, you kits can slowly starve. In one such instance, when I came around, all four were close to death. If rabbits hadn’t been close by, I’m certain would have lost more than just one.

New weather features have also been added. Thunder and lightening have become more threatening, and immediate, with strikes hitting the ground by you and surrounding trees. Rain also makes an appearance, driving down onto you and your kits, and which you can’t – ironically – really take shelter from.

Overall, Mountains is a strong addition to the overall gameplay of Shelter 2. Usually, I’d hesitate to say that a particular DLC is a necessity to a game as games should be a complete package; but I feel that Mountains is such a brilliant addition to a game that – a couple of generations down the line – can become a little too predictable. The new enemies added aren’t escapable, like the wolves on the ice plains are, and their ability to randomly appear anywhere in the world only adds to the overall atmosphere of survival being a mixture of parental care and dumb luck. The unpredictability this adds only serves to enhance the experience – and the message – the developers intended when creating the game. My only criticism of this DLC is that, as it is such a good addition to the game itself – slotting in perfectly with the rest of the game so much its as if it has always been there – it does make me wonder why this was not included in the original base game.

Regardless, as it is good addition – which DLC should be – and strengthens the base game further, I give Shelter 2 Mountains:

★★★★