Author(s): Sheila Heti
Reeling from a failed marriage, Sheila, a twenty-something playwright, finds herself unsure of how to live and create. When Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist, enter her life, Sheila hopes that through close-sometimes too close-observation of her new friend, her new lover, and herself, she might regain her footing in art and life.Using transcribed conversations, real emails, plus heavy doses of fiction, the brilliant and always innovative Sheila Heti crafts a work that is part literary novel, part self-help manual, and part bawdy confessional. It's a totally shameless and dynamic exploration into the way we live now, which breathes fresh wisdom into the eternal questions: What is the sincerest way to love? What kind of person should you be?
What is the relation between the real-life Sheila and the Sheila of this book, her real-life friend Margaux and the Margaux of this book, between her other real-life friends and acquaintances and their counterparts in this book? These are not interesting questions (unless you happen to be Sheila’s demon-lover Israel (in which case, serve you right)). This book is at once an excoriating self-examination, a pitiless self-satire (although it may in fact not be as satirical as it seems to be) and an unforgivably self-indulgent exercise in self-exposure (and is these things all at once and not by turns). You will be irritated by Sheila, but she is irritating in pretty much the same way that you are irritating to yourself, and you will grow tired of Sheila, but in the same way that you grow tired of yourself. You will put the book aside, but, without really knowing why, you will keep coming back to it in pretty much the same way you keep coming back to vaguely important but imprecise and somewhat irritating aspects of your own life. Sheila nobly asks herself “How should a person be?”, and gets the same unsatisfactory, earnest and ridiculous answers as you would get if you asked yourself the same impossible question. The book contains passages of painful honesty and vapid bullshit (both at the same time, mostly), and beautiful, sad and hilarious passages, too (again, beautiful, sad and hilarious all at once and not by turns). By asking big questions in a life that contains only small answers, Sheila holds herself up to show us that we don’t know how to be, or how to make our lives the way we want them, or even to know what we want with any sureness or consistency: “Most people live their entire lives with their clothes on, and even if they wanted to, couldn’t take them off. Then there are those who cannot put them on. They are the ones who live their lives not just as people but as examples of people. They are destined to expose every part of themselves, so the rest of us can know what it means to be human. … Some of us have to be naked, so the rest can be exempted by fate.”
Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? - in parts memoir, in turns fiction - is both a delightfully indulgent and a searingly cynical exploration of herself. Heti, in her late 20s, is struggling to write, has become disenchanted with her marriage and life in general, and keeps asking herself how she should be. It's almost as if around the next corner she expects to find the elusive 'answer'. As she records her best friend Margaux's thoughts and feelings, and their conversations, the book becomes a chaotic journey of self-discovery. There are some vicious portrayals here of friends, acquaintances and her social circle, and some delightful moments of honest and enduring relationships. This is strange, brave and hilarious novel.
A novel from life: a raw, startling, genre-defying novel of friendship, sex, and love in the new millennium. Perfect for fans of Jennifer Egan, Joan Didion, Melissa Banks, and Leanne Shapton.
Women's Prize for Fiction 2013.
Sheila Heti is the author of several books of fiction, including The Middle Stories and Ticknor, and a book of "conversational philosophy" called The Chairs Are Where the People Go, written with Misha Glouberman, which was chosen by The New Yorker as a best book of 2011. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Bookforum, McSweeney's, n+1, The Guardian, and other places. She works as interviews editor at The Believer magazine and lives in Toronto.