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Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?

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I wanted to read a novel by someone who was un-dead. Being a boy, I wanted to read a novel by an un-dead boy, but most novels composed by un-dead boys are subpar, so I read a novel by an un-dead girl, specifically Sheila Heti and her novel How Should a Person Be?

The book contains explicit depictions of s**, one chapter is called “Interlude for Fucking.” Being a Christian, this is bothersome. Sheila has multiple boy interests (one of them perpetuates a misleading attribute about Nazis). These boy interests didn’t bother all that much, but they did cause me to sort of wonder if I could ever have boy interests like hers or if I could only have the kind of boy interests who tweet Soulja Boy’s phone number or who listen to the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack after murdering their mommy and daddy in cold bold (hullo, Kip Kinkel!).

But, even with the graphic s**, I liked reading Sheila’s book. The main character, also named Sheila, is curious, alert, and not that jaded. During Art Basel, Sheila and her painter BFF watch one of Paris Hilton’s s** tapes. Instead of saying something sarcastic or issuing a condemnation of celebrity culture, Sheila discloses, “Watching her, I felt a kinship; she was just another white girl going through life with her clothes off.” While a preponderance of people are unentertaining, detached, and unaware that the 21st-century postlapsarian world is substantially similar to the Hunger Games, Paris puts on a show, and Sheila’s alliance with Paris is an alliance with the truth that everything is some variation of a performance, and that’s endearing.

Also endearing is Sheila’s relationship with her BFF, Margaux. The two are very close. At Art Basel they sleep in the same bed even though Sheila isn’t wearing any undies. Yet the two never acquire carnal knowledge of each other, because two creatures can share a deep bond without pursing the 20-something Brooklynite’s prized pursuit.

Feeling foul about many things, including potentially being the source of an unprepossessing painting by Margaux, Sheila journeys to the Big Apple. She selects New York City because a book tells her that there’s  30 “important artists” residing there, the most in any city on earth. This, too, is truthful since several special artists who have impacted perceptions of art do really reside there, like the dead version of Frank O’Hara, the dead version of Andy Warhol, and many other dead versions of artists.

Once in New York City, Sheila encounters a grumpy Jew who operates a pen and paper supplies shop and a boy in Atlantic City who tries to make Sheila feels less bad by informing her that God is caring for her in His own way. Each of these encounters possess an old-fashioned charm.

As for the s** that brought me such bother, at least it wasn’t the mild or average type of s**. Sheila is in a steamy affair with a boy named Israel. He is very controlling and intrusive, telling Sheila that he wants her to hypothesize speaking with his c** in her mouth and elaborately demanding her to compose a letter to him in public in a skirt without undies so that she can show her private part to someone. The tumultuous tryst leaves Sheila without much autonomy or agency. “Even when you hear me gagging you don’t stop,” says Sheila. “It’s your unconcern that makes me want you to do whatever you want with my body.” She doesn’t do what she wants, she does what Israel wants. Israel is her dictator, and being with a dictator boy doesn’t seem as displeasing as being with a democratic boy, the type who would probably rather be with a boy anyways.

Sheila’s book brings attention to tons of other awful attributes of the postlapsarian world, like that silly psychoanalysis and those boys who read introductions to books but not the books themselves. But Sheila’s persevering and impetuous voice negate these blights and make her book quite delectable.

 

 

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