She speaks with that questing and ingenuous tone throughout the book, but neither the novel nor its heroine is precious or naïve. Sheila has an intense, sporadic and submissive sexual affair with an artist named Israel ... Sheila herself can be fairly ridiculous, but not in the manner typical of a comic novel’s bumbling protagonist. Her occasional delusions of grandeur are familiar, perhaps ... But her far more egregious and unusual failing is her utter susceptibility to the ideas and desires of others ... More broadly, though, the novel shares with much reality television a kind of episodic aimlessness, and a focus on young, self-involved characters who spend a lot of time thinking about how they look to other people ... Heti sees the silliness in the desire for fame that drives such fare, but she also knows that same desire is involved in the impulse to make art ... I do not think this novel knows everything, but Sheila Heti does know something about how many of us, right now, experience the world, and she has gotten that knowledge down on paper, in a form unlike any other novel I can think of.
Just when you think Heti has been too cute, or one of her many exclamation marks too archly faux‑kitsch, she will come back with something arresting like this: 'Let my breasts not satisfy you then. Let my cunt bore you completely, so that even all the other cunts in the world can't distract you from the boredom that comes over you when you think of mine.' The project of this novel, it seems, is not to be beautiful, or even liked, but to challenge the idea that art should have these effects. Art, it suggests, can be humiliating, banal, low. This novel, which includes not just real people but their emails and transcribed conversations, and dangles itself precariously somewhere between 'real life' and 'art' is, in the end, a meditation on ugliness rather than beauty, and reality rather than fiction.
How Should a Person Be?’s deft, picaresque construction, which lightly-but-devastatingly parodies the mores of Toronto’s art scene, has more in common with Don Quixote than with Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls or the fatuous blogs and social media it will, due to its use of constructed reality, inevitably be compared with ... For all of the wildness contained in Heti’s account of her struggles, the book is perfectly composed within the classical structure of five-act dramatic narrative ... Heti’s use of real art-world names, real events, real conversations and correspondence, owes a large debt to the work of the late Kathy Acker, which, due to our short cultural memory, might be obscured by the tedious arguments for and against the 'generational narcissism; of social media ... Despite their prolific drinking and drugging, Sheila and her friends are, at bottom, quite wholesome: they hold most of their conversations during walks, they ride their bikes to each other’s houses.