Recently I reviewed Sheila Heti's latest book, How Should a Person Be?, for The Quarterly Conversation.
One of the most important aspects of that book is the life-altering friendship between the narrator (also named Sheila), a writer, and Margaux, a painter (also the name of Heti's real-life friend). Here's an excerpt from the review:
The plot, if there can be said to be one, hinges on Sheila’s inability to write a play for a feminist theatre company. It doesn’t have to be a feminist play, they tell her, but it has to be about women. “I didn’t know anything about women! And yet I hoped I could do it, being a woman myself.” At the same time, Sheila is living in the aftermath of a failed marriage, trying to figure out how to befriend an artist called Margaux, and experiencing all-consuming lust for a painter named Israel. But the play just won’t come together, and, wanting desperately to be a genius, Sheila is terrified of failure.
In order, then, to write the play, Sheila begins her recordings, hoping to learn from her friends a bit more about how a person, and more specifically an artist, should be. Along the way she inadvertently ends up alienating Margaux, the one person who is as “serious” as Sheila. After the two girls travel to Miami together to attend Art Basel, Sheila writes an article about their trip. Margaux reads it and is so hurt she can no longer paint, Sheila feels responsible, and—well, I won’t tell you how it ends. Suffice it to say, the path to enlightenment is more of a Dantean journey. Do people change? Can we learn things? Through her friendship with Margaux, Sheila goes from “stupidly living” to living with consciousness, intention, awareness. This trajectory would seem to be at odds with the self-awareness and anti-conventional aspect of the rest of the text. (full review here)
I'm thinking quite a bit about artistic friendships between women these days, for a project I'm putting together, and probably that is in no little part due to the fact that over the past year or so, my friends have become incredibly important to me. They always were, but I think I took that for granted until fairly recently. I've leaned on them to get me through all the crap this last year has involved, the big disappointments and small triumphs (and small disapointments and big triumphs), but most importantly, they talk to me about my work and are helpful and brilliant and generous. (I hope I am as good a friend to them in return.)
So having just returned home from a lovely evening out with one of my excellent friends, I was so glad to read this interview with her. Harriet is (as I just observed to her tonight) the kind of person who has an idea and the next day it's a thing you can touch and leaf through and love. She founded a pretty awesome literary magazine called Her Royal Majesty. Read the interview and you'll see why I'm so glad she's my friend, and you'll want her to be your friend too, and I'm sure she'd be happy to be.