How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life by Sheila Heti
Review by Lauren
Copy sent for review, but all opinions are my own
Reeling from a failed marriage, Sheila, a twentysomething 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?
Review: This book is called a novel from life and in the summary, it mentions that it's a blend of fiction and what seems to be real life. When you're reading this, though, I couldn't tell what was made up and what was based on real life. I suppose that adds a layer to the book that makes it more interesting. You're reading about the main character, also named Sheila, and how she's so desperate to know how a person should be that she compromises who she is...and you can't help but wonder, what parts of this girl's story were the author's own?
Despite the wonder, this is still a fascinating book. It's something that leaves you with questions and makes you wonder about yourself and those in your life. It's hard to read at times because you don't want Sheila to keep putting herself in demeaning relationships, mostly with Israel, who essentially wants control through sexual means. And this book is quite sexual. Israel is straight-forward about his requests and Sheila often compares things to sex. There is even a whole chapter devoted to Sheila's obession with Israel in a sexual means. If this is something that bothers you to read, then I wouldn't recommend the book...and I'll admit, sometimes I was tired of reading Sheila's thoughts about sex and wanted to know the point. In the end, though, I think I got it, and it shows that these are all parts of Sheila's life and how she evolved.
I highly enjoyed Marguax. She's not always the best friend, but it was real in that way. Sometimes she said things that pushed Sheila away, but she would always come back and make sure they were on the same page.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is how it's set up. There a few different acts, with the chapters starting over in each new book, as if the book was a play in and of itself (as Sheila is blocked when trying to write her own play within the story). Sheila also buys a tape recorder to record conversations she has with people and these are transcribed within the book, as if you are reading a play. There are even emails included throughout, but instead of being set up like normal emails, they are written as a 1.2.3. method.
For example, this is an excerpt of an email Marguax sends to Sheila, which is about her being upset Sheila bought the same dress as her-
5. when you said that you'd only wear it out of town and never in toronto, it sort of seemed reasonable.
6. but not really, since of course we only exist in pictures.
That last line was one of my favorites, as it's kind of true in a way...besides our own memories, our past most clearly exists in photos. Intriguing, isn't it?
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's quite unlike anything I've ever read and it does raise some interesting questions. I did find a few parts to be a bit preachy in a way, but nothing that isn't easy to get past.