Thursday, July 12, 2012

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti


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

Official Summary:

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.

19 comments:

Liviania said...

That is a lovely line.

(But I prefer my friends - we own many of the same pieces of clothing and it's never a big deal.)

Missie, The Unread Reader said...

That must be some good blending if it wasn't obvious what was fiction. I like that. For stories to be authentic, I think they need to be based on RL.

And yes, the set up sounds fun. Feels like forever since I've read something that was formatted like a play.

Mimi Valentine said...

Toronto!! Ohhhhhh, is this book set in Canada? Because if it is, then I think that just makes me want to read it more LOL x) I love that this book explores serious issues and makes you think, even though I'll probably blush like crazy for all those explicit scenes haha :') And the fact that there are emails is really cool too, especially in that 1, 2, 3 method!

Awesome review, Lauren! :) <3

Sam said...

This sounds very different to my usual sort of read but I don't think that's a bad thing. It's interesting to hear that it's a strange mix of fiction and reality. I would love to see what that's like. Great review! :)

Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue said...

Wow! This one sounds like a really intriguing read. I probably never would have heard of it if not for your review. I bet it was really thought-provoking, too!

Molli | Once Upon A Prologue

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Hm... this one sounds different than my usual read. That right there makes me want to read it. Plus I love a book that just makes you think. Thanks for putting this on my radar!

elena said...

This sounds like an interesting read! Blending fiction and real life, hm. I like the way the emails are formatted too with the 1,2,3 method!

Erika said...

This sounds like a fascinating book. I love that it's written in an unconventional style! :)

Brandileigh2003 (Blkosiners Book Blog) said...

Sounds like an interesting premise, especially leaving you with questions. Sad though that main character puts herself in bad situations.
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

Blodeuedd said...

I do like nr 6, we only exist in pictures. Kind of haunting to think of it

Hilda K said...

Oh, this book sounds very interesting! The 123 method is very strange, but very creative! I haven't read books that deal with serious issues lately, so I'm very curious about this book! I think I'm going to enjoy meeting Sheila! x)

Amazing review, Lauren! :)

StephanieD said...

It would drive me crazy trying to figure out what was real and what was made up. Most authors just take from their own lives and publish under the guise of fiction because it's too intimate. Especially all the sexual stuff, It sounds like Sheila has no such inhibitions!

Medeia Sharif said...

This sounds like an unusual and interesting reading. I've only read accounts of a few authors admitting that their novels were a blend of real life and fiction. I'm adding this to my wish list.

Maja (The Nocturnal Library) said...

Hah. Strangely, I find myself very intrigued by this book. it's not something I'd normally read, but your review made it sound intelligent and compelling, and above all very real, which is something I can't resist.
Wodnerful review.

Vegan YA Nerds said...

What a fantastic review, hun. I have never heard of this book but I love how it walks the line between real life and fantasy/make believe. I am definitely intrigued and I'd love to read this now!

L-Diggitty said...

Definitely going to have to read this book! And you know, some authors live vicariously through their characters - meaning that the events may not have happened to THEM, but they may be just imagining what it would be like if it had. Or, often, the events in some way, shape, or form, occurred to them or someone they knew. Either way, it's intriguing to try to figure out!

Ajoop. S said...

Definitely haven't read or read about anything like this book before! Sounds fantabulous! Wonderful review :)

Aylee said...

I think the writing devices - the writing like it is an actual play, the point form emails - are what truly make this book intriguing to me. It's not often that I get to read books that are so unique like this.

Candace said...

This sounds very different, but I'm so intrigued and curious! It just sounds so weird.... but I want to know more! Awesome review, it got my attention!