Monday, May 20, 2013

How Should A Person Be?

How Should a Person Be?  by Sheila Heti
Read:  2013

I am having a difficult time  describing this book.  It is subtitled, 'A Novel from Life' and the main character is named Sheila who tells the story in the first person. Considering the subject matter and my life's experiences in comparison, I found myself continually  going to the author photo on the back flap.  In the photo, she looks to me, like a plain, almost mousy woman, but still cute. She appears to have little or no makeup on, is wearing a floral dress more 1990s than 2013. Are those dresses back?  That was so my look, with the combat boots or Keds and the little dresses. I had a closetful!  Sorry. Back to topic. Why am I so interested in this photo? Why am I so insistent upon comparing what I've read with the author's looks? Even I see it as being shallow, incredibly so.  But, I'm having a real hard time with this.

The beginning of the book was amazing! I felt like Heti was speaking to me. She was there and knew that I was there and she spoke my language. I thought she understood my world.   Then, I discovered that I was very very wrong about that.           
" How should a person be? I sometimes wonder about it, and I can't help answering like this: a celebrity. But for all that I love celebrities, I would never move somewhere that celebrities actually exist. My hope is to live a simple live in a simple place....
... a live of undying fame that I don't have to participate in...." 
This I can totally related to. The idea of fame and celebrity without having to actually go and become one.  Admittedly, this could be the outward manifestation of my extreme laziness.  One of my goals in life is to never ever appear on television or film, but that doesn't mean I've never imagined my Oscar/Grammy/Emmy acceptance speech. For what, you may ask?  What difference does it make?  It's just another instance of silly me behaving like me.

Two paragraphs later she says (cover your eyes, kiddies, this is pretty blue):
"We live in an age of some really great blow job artists.  Every era has its art form. The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel....  I just do what I can to not gag too much...."
Sheila is a Canadian playwrite with some very good friends, one highly existential crisis and, I think, too much time on her hands .  This book is by turns hilarious and horrifying.  Maybe what Heti writes is too real for me. If the ends justified the means, I might've gotten more from it. We've all got our crises of belief, our moments of doubt.  How many of us have all the time in the world to just wallow in them, and still not come up with an answer? 

I'm not sure what would be more disturbing, if this is a novel of Heti's life, or if she made this up. Nothing happens in this book. No one grows. No one learns. Is this really the way most of life is?  It could be.  I see plenty of people who just seem to walk in place and then wonder why they didn't get anywhere?  Of course, their quests didn't culminate in best selling books, so there's that. I imagine this as the Seinfeld of books. A book about nothing of substance, filled with people who you just can't care about or really like. 

Sheila and Margaux, a playwright and an artist, respectively, are best friends. They live in Toronto, where they share a work space. After her divorce, Sheila decides to really concentrate on the feminist play she's agreed to write for a local theater group.  Instead she finds work in a hair salon where she feels fulfilled shampooing hair, laundering towels and sweeping up. She is drawn to a man named Israel, about whom she rhapsodizes all the ways she wants him to demean her. That was where I had the hardest time not checking out. What self-respecting human being with a modicum of intelligence not only wants this, she begs for it?

At the core of it all, I believe there is a huge question of feminism. Do we really know what it is? Taylor Swift was the butt of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's joke at a recent awards show. Her response was to quote Katie Couric and state that there's a special place in hell for women who don't support other woman.  My response was a resounding WTF! This comes from a woman who answered a question about feminism by making it clear she has no idea what it is. She seems to think it's some kind of boys vs. girls kind of thing. Clearly, the definition varies for people. I've never taken it to be about hating men, fighting men for power or beating them. Feminism, to me, means giving women the same freedoms, rights and options as men.  I believe in equal rights and equal pay. I think a woman who makes the choice to stay home and raise her children is not a traitor to the cause.  That's her choice for her life. You can be as powerful as you want.

And, the question about how a person should be?  I'm not sure if it's a character flaw to need to ask it? Or, if  it's something we should all be asking every single day.  With all of that being said, I will now quietly step down from my wee little soap box.

For the record, here's the author photo inside the cover:


Anonymous said...

Mousey? Sheila looks a hell of a lot better than the reviewer!

And can she write!

JoanneMarie Faust said...

Ahh, Anonymous. You either missed my point, or I didn't make it well. I guess we'll both just have to try to be a little better in the future.

Judy Krueger said...

Loved your musings about this book. I was one of those readers on the "loved it" side. I think everyone at various times in life goes through the questions she raises. I don't think everyone admits it.