Most people live their entire lives with their clothes on, and even if they wanted to, couldn't take them off. Then there are those who cannot put them on. They are the ones who live their lives not just as people but as examples of people. They are destined to expose every part of themselves, so the rest of us can know what it means to be a human.
I read this book for two reasons; (1) Roxane Gay liked it, and (2) I wanted to read Heti's older stuff before buying her new book, Motherhood. Published in 2012, How Should a Person Be? defies traditional categorization. Part fiction and part autobiography, the layout of the book resembles the layout of Zinzi Clemmons' novel, What We Lose. How Should a Person Be? is an amalgam of numbered lists, surprising one liners, essayettes, and more traditional narrative.
In just over 300 pages, Heti follows a person's "search for meaning" in the Toronto art world. The main character, a white woman in her twenties named Sheila, wants nothing more than to be "important" in the world. Through art, she hopes to "do something meaningful" and become as famous as possible. Sheila wants to be one of those "Important Artists." Unfortunately, there's nothing interesting enough about Sheila (or her work) to vault her to the level of fame she so ardently seeks. She's mad about it.
Some Goodreads people hate this book. I can understand why, I guess. The book chronicles the life of a white woman with money trying to "find meaning" in the world. It's a whole bunch of navel-gazing. That's the point though-- Heti is examining our generation's narcissism. I didn't have it in me to hate this book. While the main character is often lacking in intrigue, Heti serves up plenty of it in the creative construction of the book. How Should a Person Be? is for women, about women, written by a woman. This pans out on Goodreads: women seem more likely than men to rate it 4 or 5 stars. Fine then. I'm okay with that. I look forward to reading Heti's newest book, Motherhood, later this week.