How Should a Person Be?
by Sheila Heti.
I don’t remember exactly how this book got on my to-read list (it’s not my usual jaunt into bookland), but I’m glad it did. How Should a Person Be? is part philosophy, part autobiographical confession, part fiction. It jumps between traditional narrative prose, transcripts of emails and recorded conversations, and stream-of-consciosness writing. The result is a book that is more like the literary version of a reality tv show. It feels authentic, even though you know it’s been framed just so.
The book follows Sheila as she tries to figure out who she is and who she wants to be and whether there’s any path between the two. She’s recovering from a divorce, and trying to write a play through the worst case of uninspired writer’s block. So she decides to use the real life people around her as inspiration. We’re introduced to a group of friends that bounce in and out of the story. They are all artsy intellectuals, on the verge of being pretentious, but still like-able. Most notable is her friend Margaux, and it’s really the development of friendship between these two women that drives the story.
There is also an interlude with a man named Israel, and these were the only parts of the book I didn’t like. To call it a ‘romantic’ relationship would be giving him/it too much credit. And I didn’t feel like they had a real place in the narrative, other than this happened to be going on in her life at the time. Which I guess is a valid reason for inclusion, but still: did not enjoy. Just be warned that there are some jarring explicit sections.
The point of the book, of the story, is really only evident when you get to the end. It’s existence is what matters, not whether there was a happy ending, or which parts are true or fiction. If you can handle meta-fiction without the traditional story arc, I think you’ll find this a brave, interesting read.