[Book Review] 'No One Belongs Here More than You' by Miranda July

no one belongs here more than you miranda july
I have always known that it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover.

I myself almost committed the same mistake with this book, though. I did not immediately pick up a copy of it from the shelves of bookstores I had visited, thinking it would just be another so-so read. Good thing, though, my friend A started talking about it. He said he liked the book a lot and since I have always trusted his taste, I gave it a shot. I read it.

Then, I was surprised. I didn’t expect that such a thin and plain-looking book could remind me of how complex it is to be human. Despite its stories’ shortness and the simplicity of the language used in them, it was able not only to toy with my emotions but also made me realize that life would sometimes reveal more of its nature through strange and painful experiences.

The story “The Swim Team” would make a great example. It tells the story of a young woman who moves to a town where she meets a group of old people who want to learn how to swim. She is eager to teach them but she realizes that there is neither a body of water nor a swimming pool in town. Yet, instead of simply abandoning the idea and letting them die without realizing their dreams, she teaches them how to swim–in her apartment unit. On the floor, they make movements as though they were swimming in the water and practice proper breathing by soaking their faces in a bowl of water. They refer to her as “Captain” and they act as if they were a real swim team.

“Mon Plaisir”, on the other hand, is painful. It tells the story of a couple whose relationship is falling apart. It doesn’t simply tell; it also shows. Instead of telling the readers that the characters are separating, it implies through the use of their actions and dialogues. Yet, they try to stay together–at least physically. They still live in the same house although, based on the narrative itself, both of them find it hard to relate to each other. While there are attempts to salvage the relationship, some sense of awkwardness can be sensed in each of their encounters.

This is so much painful, especially when juxtaposed with how they are with each other as background actors. In the story, they respond to a casting call and become extras in a film called Hello Maximillion, Goodbye Maximillion. During the shoot, they are asked to just talk to each other (silently, not to steal the spotlight from the main actors) in a French restaurant called Mon Plaisir. Throughout the scene, the two of them seem to have recovered the intimacy they used to have.
On action, I squeezed Carl’s finger and he gripped mine. The urgency seemed obvious now, we both leaned forward and I held his bearded chin as we kissed quickly, not wanting to distract from the lead table. The feeling between us was mournful and desperate. We could not look away from each other, every inhalation was a question: Yes? Followed by: Yes. Falling and catching and falling and catching, we descended into a precarious and vivid place; I had always known it was there but had never guessed where. Carl’s new sense of humor flourished in silence, he made subtly absurd gestures that surprised me into almost audible laughter. And I could not make a move without making love. Every time I shifted in my chair, lifted my fork, brushed my hair from my eyes, I seemed to be pushing through the motions as through honey, slowly and with all kinds of implications. I feared our breath was too loud. I seized his forearms, he took off his shoes, beneath the table, our feet pushed with an almost vocal eloquence.
Yes, they are more okay when they are just acting–in silence–than in real life. In fact, the awkwardness and coldness come back as soon as real-life resumes, allowing them to finally realize that it has to stop. They should separate.
How could it be over? Carl and I looked at each other with disbelief. The crew began to clap, everyone clapped; we could only rise from our table and stumble out of the room with the twenty-two other diners. We didn’t look at each other when we parted toward different dressing rooms. The drive home was long and sealed in a drowning silence. Walking across the front lawn, Carl stopped to re-coil the hose that I had left out the day before. I waited for him for a moment and then felt silly standing there and went inside. It was late, so I started making dinner. Only once we sat down did it strike me as bizarre. Here we were again, eating together in silence. I pressed my fork into the greens and began to cry. Carl looked up, we stared across the table at each other. It was plain between us: we should not be together any longer. And cut.
It broke my heart, really. And it still does.

I can tell that July’s brilliance has become more apparent with this story, particularly how it is laid out. “Mon Plaisir” is neither noisy nor explosive; its characters do not need to yell at each other to let its readers figure out what their relationship has become. These characters only need to show what they no longer are through a situation that’s a bit odd.

These are just two out of the 16 stories in the collection. Grab a copy of the book and find out how it can break your heart, too. Don’t worry, though, with every heartbreak that you will have through this book, you are sure to learn or realize something. Maybe it can change your life, too. Who knows?

(Image from Simon & Shuster)

Mina Deocareza

[Book Review] 'The Financial Lives of the Poets' by Jess Walter

the financial lives of the poets jess walter

Written by Jess Walter, The Financial Lives of the Poets tells the story of Matthew, who quit his job as a reporter to pursue his long-time dream–to write verses about money matters. Things don’t go well for him, unfortunately, and he is suddenly faced with debts.

He is also about to lose his home and his materialistic wife. One night, he goes to a 7-Eleven store to get some milk for his child and meets two young men who happen to be pot smokers. For some reason, he becomes close to them. He is also introduced to these pot smokers’ friends until he eventually gets into the business of selling pot. Then a crazy turn of events begins.
How do you know when you’ve gone too far? When you can’t go back?
This novel is close to my heart not only because it gives me a pat on the back that I’m on the right track (you know, not quitting my day job to pursue art full-time, regardless of whether there’d be food on the table or not) but also because it provides interesting insights on how the modern society works, particularly in relation to money and capitalism.

This book is also very easy to read. Apart from being funny, its language is also simple, making it easy to understand. The dialogues are also entertaining and powerful; they can give you lots of ideas about the cleverly designed characters.

(Image from Penguin Books Australia)
Mina Deocareza

[Book Review] 'Look Who's Back' by Timur Vermes

Imagine Adolf Hitler waking up in Berlin in 2011.

He sees a different Germany and wonders what has become of his efforts back in the day. Later on, the fuhrer gets mistaken for a method actor and becomes a comedian known for his grumpy remarks about the country and the foreigners. People also think he is taking things too far by not taking a break from his character.

A brilliant premise, right? I think so, too. However, I am not completely sold to it because of its poor execution.

Hitler’s Character

I get it. He is confused and torn because of so many things. Perhaps it won’t be easy for anyone to just wake up one day with things not going according to your plans. So when Hitler becomes grumpy and rants a lot here, I kind of understand where he is coming from. But what I don’t get is his sudden shifts to just being understanding and actually accepting things as they are. Come on. While I sense that this is the writer’s way of fleshing out the character and showing his other side, I think it could have still be improved.

Slow Narrative

In fiction classes, I learned that a writer should avoid dropping too many details, especially if they don’t help the story move forward. Otherwise, the narrative gets really slow, some of its parts becoming boring. Unfortunately, that happens a lot here. In fact, I sometimes feel as if I were reading a mere history book or some other informative material and then, all of a sudden, ask myself, “Wait, so what’s the story?” Sure, give a backgrounder. Provide a historical context. Yet, make sure the story still moves forward.


In all fairness to this novel, it’s made me laugh. Therefore, it lives up to the expectation when it comes to the level of humor. The descriptions and dialogues are also good. In my head, I can clearly picture Adolf Hitler as he rants in front of the camera.

The project is so ambitious and while I have issues with it, I still would like to commend Timus Vermes for having written material.

Perhaps, I could have enjoyed reading this more if I weren’t a creative writing graduate. Because yes, I might have just been over-analyzing.

(Image from Hachette UK)
Mina Deocareza

[Book Review] 'Room' by Emma Donoghue

room emma donoghue
Room tells the story of Ma and Jack.
At first, things seem normal. They stay in a room, so what? Yet, subtle yet meaningful details imply, little by little, that there’s actually something wrong with the whole setup. Why let Jack sleep inside the wardrobe, in the first place? Also, isn’t it strange that Old Nick, another character in the novel, just comes in at night? Eventually, it is revealed that Ma is actually being held captive by Old Nick.

I read it in one sitting because it was so engaging. I just could not put it down because I wanted so bad to know how Ma and Jack got to their current situation and how Old Nick managed to keep them. Of course, I won't deny that the entire thing was also a little bit too heavy to process, and it was scary at some point as well. Readers should definitely pick it up with caution.
(Image from Amazon)
Mina Deocareza