Sheila Heti is still asking questions

In her poignant and imaginative new novel, “Pure color“Sheila Heti opens with an unusual concept: Man is a bear, a fish or a bird.

The people who care most about their closest relationships are bears. Those who focus on the common good are fish. And the people most preoccupied with beauty and aesthetics are the birds.

Heti writes: “Those born from these three different eggs will never fully understand each other, but “fish, birds, and bears are equally important in the eyes of God”.

It was an idea she had been thinking about for 15 years. As she was writing her groundbreaking novel”What should a person become?“Over a decade ago, she envisioned the possibility of ‘God is three art critics in the sky,'” she said in a video interview at her home in Toronto last month.

Critics are prominent figures in Heti’s worldview (“I think the critic is trying to get bad work out of our history”) as well as “Pure Color”, which Farrar, Straus, & Giroux to publish on February 15. Originally Heti, 45 years old. began writing a novel about art criticism, and traces of her original project flashed through the book.

Her protagonist, Mira, a young woman living in the “first draft of existence”, enrolls in a prestigious critic training academy, which encourages writers to think . (Mira, should I say, is a bird.)

While still a student, Mira met and fell in love with a young woman named Annie. But Mira’s most complicated relationship is with her father, who introduced her to the beauty and mystery of the world, and the love of someone she harbored and felt suffocated. Heti writes: “Mira longs to live in an ice bath in her life. “It’s hard to be held so tight by the biggest bear.”

However, when her father died, the heart of the story lost its beat. Mira, who was very certain of her path and desires, reconsidered her choice. Her father’s spirit turned into a leaf, and Mira joined him there for a while, pondering whether to stay in the comfort of his closeness or go back to living a full life. whole.

Heti had no intention of writing a book about loss. In 2018, when she was working on “Pure Color”, her father is deadand she began to write about her experiences and feelings for a long time, separate from the novel.

It wasn’t until looking back at what she had written a few months later that she realized it belonged to what had become “Pure Color”. (Heti is writing a limited edition column for the Times Opinion section based on her diary entries from the previous decade.)

“I have never had a book open to me so surprisingly,” she said.

Heti, the author of 10 books, is used to borrowing from her own life to feed her fictional stories. Her two most recent novels, “Mom-and-son love, ”About a woman’s decision to have children and“How should one be?,” features a Canadian writer named Sheila as the main characters. They are asking questions, fidgeting, and looking outside of themselves – to friends, art, the I Ching – for answers. Recompiled email exchanges and forward conversations often appear in Heti’s work, drawing comparisons with autobiographical writers like Rachel Cusk and Ben Lerner.

“She understands what it takes to test and create something out of nothing,” author and artist Leanne Shaptona friend of Heti, who was cooperate with her on some illustrations project, said in an email. “That work is sometimes like giving CPR to a drowning victim for 36 hours or months. Live or die, she’s still there.”

Heti grew up in Toronto, the daughter of Hungarian-Jewish parents, and Jewish theology and history have shaped much of her work. She studied art history and philosophy at the University of Toronto after leaving the National Theater School of Canada, where she seriously considered becoming a playwright. (Writing plays used to appeal to her more than writing novels, she used to saywhich “seems to be the most boring thing you can do.”)

Her first book, a collection of fable-like stories, was published in 2001, when she was 24 years old. Her 2005 novel, “Ticknor,” was inspired by the real-life friendship between 19th century authors William Hickling Prescott and George Ticknor.

But with “How Should Humans Be?,” released in the United States in 2012, Heti began “to think about the novel from scratch and write something for me,” she says. Although she has written two books, “I have a lot of very basic questions that I feel I need to answer.”

Her friendship with the painter Margaux Williamson – along with conversations and memorable scenes from her life – form the backbone of “What Should One Be?,” which is broken down into acts like a play and explores how the two women women arrange their lives as artists.

“In her work, she considers herself a fool — she practices low self-esteem,” says Williamson. “But what Sheila is doing is acknowledging the ego that is present in all creative work and getting it out of the way.”

Some Reviewers on “What Should One Be?” problem with what they see as narrator self-involvement. But others praised Heti’s perception and voice; Times book critic Dwight Garner listed it as one of the 15 women’s books that changed the 21st century novel.

The curiosity that guides her writing matches Heti’s real-life curiosity. For many years, she was the interview editor for the literary magazine The Believer, speaking to everyone from Dave Hickey arrive Joan Didion.

“She was a writer who was really an artist,” says Shapton. “She doesn’t just stop at illustrating or illuminating, she’s always questioning, thinking, philosophizing.”

Heti felt intoxicated as he embarked on “What should a person be?” was not there when she was drafting “Pure Color”. “Maybe it just happens once in a lifetime,” she said. “Maybe you can do it again after 30 years, but not after 20 years. I love the feeling of learning and questioning everything from the very beginning and starting with all the new assumptions.”

But there is a noticeable change in tone in “Pure Color”. Williamson also noticed a change after reading the initial draft. Even after decades of friendship, she says, “I don’t know the depth that Sheila creates inside of me.”

In Heti’s earlier books, readers see world characters engaged in philosophical or aesthetic pleasures, at parties, in conversations with friends. The Sheilas of those novels don’t tend to prolong the discomfort: Scenes and moods change rapidly. But “Pure Color” readers stayed with Mira through some torn emotions.

Part of the change, says Heti, came from the fact that she “became less afraid of feeling things”. With an experience as overwhelming as grief, “there’s really no way to run away from it.”

There are fewer characters in “Pure Color”, reflecting Heti’s changing life. “I’ve been interested in people for a long time,” says Heti, to the point where she suffers from extreme curiosity. “I got to the bottom of whatever I was looking for.”

With the book ready for release, it’s too early for Heti to know what her next project might be. But she has questions, of course.

“What would it be like to write without trying to fix anything, or fix anything, or beautify anything, or be comfortable or entertained?” she wondered. “What if you took all that motivation away? What type of writing followed? ”

In case it’s not clear, Heti, like Mira, is a bird—“obviously,” she said, laughing. Sheila Heti is still asking questions

Fry Electronics Team

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