The wrong side of quirky

No one belongs here more than you
by Miranda July

This collection of short stories is probably best described as…odd. July is a filmmaker, writer and performance artist and I remember liking her film Me and You and Everyone We Know. The stories in this book have a similar sense of humour, offbeat and candid, but they also put me on edge.

July’s characters tend to be loners, sometimes for good reason. They are the socially awkward, the fantasy dwellers, the perpetual outsiders. And some writers do a fantastic job of making characters like these sympathetic, of making the reader inhabit them and their view of the world. July somehow does the opposite. She shows the world from their perspective but makes it jagged, difficult and largely unsympathetic. The humour is that awkward, “isn’t real life odd” humour of films such as Napoleon Dynamite or The Squid and the Whale, which for me is a bit of a hit and miss style.

The stories are interesting and explore quite different situations (generally awkward ones) but my main criticism would be that the narrators all tended to sound the same. They considered themselves more observant then others, felt they were making sacrifices for others without ever trying to see a situation from someone else’s perspective, and they were lonely. The other recurring theme (than being an outsider/lonely) was sexual taboos, by which I don’t mean the homosexuality that does indeed crop up several times, but rather themes such as sexual obsession, sex and old people, masturbation; even crossing the line into incest and paedophilia. The former I am fine with reading about but the last two do unnerve me.

July definitely has an original voice and perspective, and some of her observations were beautiful, while others were frankly disturbing. I suppose you might call this the darker side of quirky. Interesting, but not entirely comfortable reading.

Published 2007 by Canongate Books.