Something That Needs Nothing by Miranda July, 2006
The magic trick:
Imbuing the narrator with a complicated kind of innocence
It’s been a fairly common magic trick on this site – the first-person narrator who misunderstands the story going on around them. This is often done using a child’s point of view. One of my favorite such examples is Hemingway’s “My Old Man,” where the young narrator’s relationship with his father is complicated by his innocence in the face of the seedy world of horse racing they call home. It’s a great way to, among other things, demonstrate a protagonist’s characteristics rather than simply stating them.
OK, so what about this Miranda July story?
Her narrator isn’t a child – she’s 18 or so – but the magic trick is still in effect. Our poor, poor narrator just fundamentally doesn’t understand the world quite like her friend Pip. Or maybe it’s that she’d prefer not to face the facts about their relationship or the lack thereof.
July manages a very subtle trick here. The narrator especially shows her complicated, categorized maturity levels in her response to the arrangement with Kate. She declares it to be a form of class warfare, a unified stance from her and Pip. It’s not, of course. She just doesn’t understand. What’s neat, though, is that her theory of class warfare actually demonstrates a tremendous intelligence and awareness of society. It’s not a question of flat-out immaturity. It’s more nuanced than that. She’s emotionally naïve but socially advanced. Or something like that.
However you define it, the narrator’s sense of the world is revealed to the reader, perfectly setting up her struggle for growth in the story’s second half. And that’s quite a trick on July’s part.
One of the many great reasons for building a basement was our access to free wood. Pip had met a girl whose father owned Berryman’s Lumber and Supply. Kate Berryman. She was a year younger than us and went to a private high school by Pip’s grandma’s house. I had never met her, but I felt glad that we were using her. We practiced a very loose, sporadic form of class warfare that sanctioned every kind of thievery. There was no person, no business, no library, no hospital, or park that had not stolen from us, be it psychically or historically, and thus we were forever trying to regain what was ours. Kate probably thought she was on our side of the restitution when she struggled to pull large pieces of plywood out of the back of her parents’ station wagon.