No one who saw Miranda July's writing/directing feature-film debut Me And You And Everyone We Know is likely to be surprised that her first book, No One Belongs Here More Than You, is about alienation and loneliness. Or that it's quirky and slight. Or that it frequently features unconventional sexual pairings and proclivities. The surprises all come from the details: the desperate lengths her heartachy protagonists are willing to go to in order to make some form of contact with other people, and the strange directions their minds flit.
No One Belongs Here doesn't pack much dramatic heft: It wedges 16 stories (nine of them previously published) into a mere 200 pages, with the shortest entry a mere two pages long. But July's stories, like her film, are delicate enough confections that they rarely need more space. In a typical tale, a character makes a connection—a woman cuddles up to a neighbor who's having an epileptic fit, a man develops a crush on a fictional woman, a secretary contrives a meeting and a relationship with her boss' wife—then loses it, or realizes it was never fully formed to begin with. July often clings to her protagonists' point of view, moving not quite inside their heads, but far enough away from the real world that they can internally justify their often-unjustifiable behavior, while still seeing its awkward, unromanticized results: the way their prospective partners pull away, seeking other things, or clinging to what they already have, and have had all along.
This makes for a melancholy collection, but Miranda's genteelly perky sense of humor (particularly in evidence on her adorable handmade book-promotion site, noonebelongsheremorethanyou.com) steers well clear of pity-party miserablism. Her characters are so buoyantly outré, with their odd metaphors and odder mental acrobatics, that they function like pastel portraits of heartache, affecting but still cotton-candy light. The longest pieces, like the gripping teen-girl romance "Something That Needs Nothing," hint at a solid, mature talent in development. But currently, July's greatest strength is in the kind of whimsy that suffuses ephemera like the four-page thought experiment "This Person," which starts with an abstract image—"Someone is getting excited"—and then moves, dreamlike, toward an increasingly specific and unconventional situation. The feelings of hurt, loss, and fear are thuddingly real, but the bright candy coating lets them go down easy.