Literary Flashback: Reading Miranda July’s ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’

Kimberly Tolleson


No One Belongs Here More Than You

By Miranda July


205 pages


In her 2007 short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July walks a fine line between repulsive and relatable, and perverse and poignant. She masterfully delves inside the heads of the depressed, the neurotic, the creepy, but somehow, remarkably, the always sympathetic. Like the book itself with its minimalist cover, July’s characters appear plain on the outside, but turn out to be terrifically weird and profound on the inside.


In one of her stories, Ten True Things, the narrator claims, “I don’t believe in psychology, which says everything you do is because of yourself. That is so untrue. We are social animals, and everything we do is because of other people, because we love them, or because we don’t.” This belief seems to get at the heart of each character in the book: though introspective and self-involved, they are also dying to connect with others. There is loneliness, sexuality, and existentialism throughout every story, but the overarching theme seems to be the deep desire to make a connection with someone – anyone – whether it’s the small boy across the street, your boss’s wife or college advisor, a customer or student, or, in one case, Prince William.


Though they are so desperate for it, July’s characters have a complicated relationship with love. There are rare moments, but they are usually neither conventional nor happy. In Something That Needs Nothing, the narrator notices, “I looked at Pip and for a split second I felt as though she was nobody special in the larger scheme of my life. She was just some girl who had tied me to her leg to help her sink when she jumped off the bridge. Then I blinked and was in love with her again.” In a later story, Mon Plaisir, the narrator explains the only loving ritual she has left with her husband: “Carl pushed down on my foot, and I pressed up on his. This is something we did the first time we ever slept together, it is a seven-year-old gesture…If the gesture were a person, it’d be in second grade by now. But it is just some movements. Still, I feel closer to him when we do this than at any other time. It is as if our feet are in the perfect, honest, loving relationship, but from the ankles up, we are lost.” The descriptions leave one to wonder how real or not the love is, or whether it can possibly exist in some dysfunctional shade of gray.


Some other characters are more optimistic, like in Ten True Things. The narrator meets someone and brings her back to her apartment, and the way she has dusted the television and purposefully tossed a sweater across her bed makes her feel that she appears loveable: “People just need a little help because they are so used to not loving. It’s like scoring the clay to make another piece of clay stick to it.”

Besides the pitch-perfect observations and the quiet epiphanies scattered throughout July’s stories, there are also wonderfully surreal moments that come as a surprise. In her short story The Swim Team, a new person in a small town starts teaching swimming lessons to three elderly people in her kitchen. She admits, “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.”


Another, more somber, example comes when the struggling married couple in Mon Plaisir sign up to be movie extras. They must mouth an entire conversation together in the back of a French restaurant, and only while doing this can they feel connected again: “We alternated like people talking, we listened and nodded and laughed silently and ate tiny bites of food…Carl even interrupted me, mouthing and nodding in agreement with what I was saying, presumably taking it one step further, and I just knew, knowing the way that people talk when they are happy, that he had said something funny. I laughed soundlessly and Carl smiled, a real smile, so pleased was he to have made me laugh.”


Though the protagonists are often sad, the book itself is not; on the contrary, it is lovely and life-affirming. The characters in No One Belongs Here More Than You are so uncomfortably human and delightfully flawed, that whether the reader ultimately decides to embrace or reject them, he or she will undoubtedly be affected by their stories. In this way, July’s characters do make the human connection which they seek so eagerly.


Author Bio:

Kimberly Tolleson, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is the author of the Literary Flashback column.


Photo: Nedja Robot (Flickr).

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