Any number of factors figure into how I, or anyone for that matter, respond to a book. Experience, age, education, even mood, come quickly to mind. I was struck by these considerations as I read Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? because the novel makes me feel that whatever I bring to this particular reading experience is a negative: my experience, my age, and yes, my mood.
Sheila is the narrator, a young writer in Toronto struggling to finish a long-overdue play; she is easily distracted by life, specifically people in her life. She is so caught up with what others think and do that she lacks focus. Sheila stretched my patience as a reader. She has a wonderful friend in Margaux, an unhealthy but lively sex relationship with a man named Israel, and an undiguised inability to recognize or accept what is good and positive in her life. She is not quite a loser, but teeters awfully close to becoming one.
Perhaps the issue lies in Heti’s attempt to fictionalize her autobiography, for she is clearly the narrator and there is little reason not to believe that the other characters comprise her circle of friends. Frankly, Sheila is not that interesting. That honor goes to Margaux who comes across as honest, talented and a good friend, but it’s hard to explain what she sees in Sheila. Israel is depicted as a depraved man who uses Sheila to fulfill his debased sexual fantasies. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to see he’s attracted to her.
How Should A Person Be?
Henry Holt and Co., 2012