‘My Life Is A Joke’ by Sheila Heti

My Life Is A Joke by Sheila Heti, 2015

The magic trick:

Aggressive – exhilarating – writer’s voice

You can go a lot of directions as an author. Your story can succeed on the strength of its ideas, maybe its characters, its plot, or the sheer charisma of the writing. Probably need more than one of those things to really shine.

In the case of Heti? She leans in hard on the charisma of the writing. The ideas are pretty good too, but it’s the writing that takes center stage here. She’s pretty aggressive in owning the voice. It could only be this narrator. This is not the way you tell just any story. This is a story that could be written the way it is written.

And that’s quite a trick on Heti’s part.

The selection:

Here is the thing: I was a joke, and my life was a joke. The last man I loved—not my high-school boyfriend—told me this during our final fight. I was thirty-four at the time. During the fight, as I was trying to explain my version of things, he shouted, “You are a joke, and your life is a joke!”

The night before, we loved each other still. We went to bed at the same time, and, as he read a popular crime novel on his phone, I fell asleep on my pillow, gently touching his arm. A few days later, I died. It has taken me since that time—four years—to understand the full significance of what he said: that I was a joke and my life was a joke. At the moment he said it, I didn’t know how to reply. I was so hurt, I just began bawling. This only proved to him that he was correct. I stared at him with an open mouth. Of course, I was used to his cruelties by then, but still it hurt.

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