Sheila Heti’s latest novel, How Should a Person Be?, has been subject to lots of extra-ponderous criticism—to say nothing of the lazy comparisons to Lena Dunham’s Girls—because it does this really radical and experimental thing where it draws from the author’s own life, including transcriptions of real conversations and real emails. Some of the characters even have the same names as their real-life counterparts.
Of course, it’s not actually all that new. Reviewing the novel in The Observer, Emily Witt pointed us to Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station,Tao Lin’s Shoplifting at American Apparel and Keith Gessen’s All The Sad Young Literary Men. Or we could defer to the expert, I Love Dick author Chris Kraus.
“Heti’s use of real art-world names, real events, real conversations and correspondence, owes a large debt to the work of the late Kathy Acker, which, due to our short cultural memory, might be obscured by the tedious arguments for and against the ‘generational narcissism’ of social media,” she wrote in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
At any rate, one of the hazards of this literary choice is that one’s material is also a lot of other people’s material, because, let’s face it, we’re all memoirists here. Take Slate critic Katie Roiphe, who began her review of Ms. Heti’s novel with a whopping and backhanded disclosure. Read More