How Should a Person Be?

Sheila Heti

I might have skipped this semi-autobiographical novel entirely if I’d only read James Wood’s rather negative opinion in his New Yorker review. Luckily a friend pointed me toward Johanna Fateman’s Bookforum review, and I reconsidered. It’s a strangely tricky book, as I suspect readers will either relate or entirely not-relate to the character Sheila’s ambition to be the best person she can be. But those who do relate may enjoy how she explores this conceit, while others may be disgusted by the ugliness of it and what that, indirectly, says about them.

The story doesn’t have a traditional structure with its confessional nature and sections written in play form and emails written as lists and one notably lewd chapter. But this makes sense in context, and there is a wry, melancholy humor that I appreciate. Though the middle part of the book started to drag a little, by the end I felt uplifted.

Life is not a harvest. Just because you have an apple doesn’t mean you have an orchard. You have an apple. Put a fence around it. Once you have put a fence around everything you value, then you have the total circle of your heart.