Review: 'How Should A Person Be'

Author Sheila Heti has a fresh pulsing voice in her new novel, How Should a Person Be?

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The young Toronto-based writer Sheila Heti has a new novel out. It's called "How Should a Person Be?" Here's Alan Cheuse with our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Here's the most interesting, if ungainly, novel I've read recently. A novel from life, as Sheila Heti calls it. The narrator, named after the author, creates an intensely personal and ribald and down and dirty investigation of her life as a writer, as a wife and then as a young divorced woman, as a lover and as a devoted, if sometimes disturbing, friend. She's trying to write a play and not doing all that well with it. Meanwhile, her painter friends up in Toronto are taking part in an ugly painting contest, trying to make the ugliest canvas the most talented of them can produce.

The painters finish in a tie. Sheila Heti seems to have done them one better in this book, making an ugly confessional novel both funny and pathetic, heroic and unassuming at the same time. Here's a sample of Heti's philosophy from this book. Most people, she writes, 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 human.

I read this eccentric book in one sitting, amazed, disgusted, intrigued, sometimes titillated I'll admit to that, but always in awe of this new Toronto writer who seems to be channeling Henry Miller one minute and Joan Didion the next. Heti's book is pretty ugly fiction - accent on the pretty.

BLOCK: That's Alan Cheuse recommending Sheila Heti's new novel "How Should a Person Be?"

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