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.