8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: How Should a Person Be? (Hardcover)
Before I bought this, I read pages from it using the Amazon preview and liked them. After I finished it, squeamishly unable to keep such a bad book in the house, I gave it to charity. I've now looked again at the preview, which, interestingly, still makes the book seem good. Caveat emptor. Amazing editorial care has gone into omitting everything that was turgid, pretentious, convoluted and charmless -- everything that, breaking Heti's own rule, doesn't know 'where the funny is'. There is, in the actual book, quite a lot of this.
In the good fragments, Heti has a nice simple style and talks appealingly about life for a young artistic type by turns confusing, upsetting, touching, obscene etc. But you realise reading the whole that unlike a lot of people with a nice simple style she doesn't stick to it and she's not using it to say a lot with a little; she's just not saying much. Often she's committing that mainstay sin of bad writing, 'telling, not showing'. No longer having the book, I'm forced to do this a bit too, but the preview gives me this: Heti exclaiming, apparently in horror, 'These are my f***ing contemporaries!' and stopping there. I think I might know what she means, but no concrete evidence is presented for the prosecution. Future generations, who with luck won't be privy to the horror, are left guessing.
This isn't writerly economy, it's shirking. For all the self-loathing displayed, the frequent charge of narcissism from other reviews is right. It's partly in the self-involvement itself, but also in a disregard for the reader so total that Heti doesn't bother to explain to us whatever it is she's trying to say. She seems, in fact, too arrogantly lazy as a writer to even work out what this is. Or maybe all she's really trying to say is that she and her friends and their so-so art-life chit-chats are pretty great and use this as a bulwark against whatever it is is she feels bad about. The ostensible purpose of the book, expressed in its attention-grabbing title, is not touched on.
Mainly, given the hype, I think it's important to say this: for all the brouhaha about Heti's supposedly unusual techniques, painful honesty etc. etc. this is decidedly not 'Blood and Guts in Highschool' -- or, frankly, anything else in the way of literary boundary-breaking. If you're reasonably well-read and come at this hoping for something interestingly new, you'll be disappointed.
Lastly, an aside: why does Heti think we (as in the contemporary collective cultural consciousness) don't know what a female genius looks like? Surely, her self-obsession hasn't stopped her reading the nineteenth and twentieth century classics?