Being a woman of Heti's generation currently living in Toronto, this book embarrasses me. Heti thinks she is truly having a revelation about living byBeing a woman of Heti's generation currently living in Toronto, this book embarrasses me. Heti thinks she is truly having a revelation about living by discovering that her life might at times be 'ugly', so much so that she feels the need to share it with everyone in a book called 'How should a person be?: A novel from life'. It reminds me of that time when Tyra Banks wore the fat suit for five minutes, had a crap experience, cried and then thought she could teach the world how it felt to be obese. Why are we suddenly incapable of understanding something unless someone from a place of privilege interprets it for us? And maybe that's the point... maybe she is providing a lens through which to see this generation and how it understands the world. But I really think that might be giving her too much credit. When she adds in the little off topic anecdotes or stories (i.e. the gravedigger), it seems like a plea for the reader to believe and feel her experience, not just see it.
And since I think she truly believes what she is saying, here are some choice quotes: "I had looked around at my life and realized that all the ugly people had been weeded out. Sholem said he couldn't enjoy a friendship with someone he wasn't attracted to. Margaux said it was impossible for her to picture an ugly person, and Misha remarked that ugly people tend to stay home." Where 'stay home' more realistically means 'stay the f out of Queen West and other related areas to avoid judgements from Heti and her quirky-named crew'.
As a lesbian, I can't help but be offended by statements like this: "A woman can't find rest or take up home in the heart of another woman – not permanently. It's just not a safe place to land." Or this (on the frequency of gay male relationships in France): "That's why there's suddenly a big increase in homosexuality... It's simpler to be with a man because I don’t have to deal with these issues." (these issues = relationships with women) (said earlier in the same breath, "the men in France are really messed up. They’re all afraid of women.")
The writing is OK. The chapter 'The White Men Go to Africa' was clever. Most intolerable was the lengthy exploration of her typing of sould instead of soul, as it is so representative of much of the book. Heti wants us to believe with her that this is some troubling subconscious behaviour related to her feeling like she's sold her soul. After bringing it up for the second time, she writes, "I shouldn't dwell on it" (me: yes) "Who gives a fuck in this fucked-up world" (me: ... we agreed to not dwell on it) "There are problems so vast and so deep that a young woman sitting alone in her room should slit her throat and die sooner than bother about the state of her soul, when so many great artists before her spent decades recalibrating a single blank canvas in their studio, fifteen, sixteen hours a day, as their marriages crumbled into the soil" (me: REALLY?). To write so much about what is likely a common typo related to keyboard muscle memory (would, should , could, soul… sould) is ridiculous. Surely no one takes themselves this seriously. It's so telling that her mom lives only a 15 minute bus ride away. Someone so deeply involved in self-analysis of every banal action seems never far from a parent. ...more