How Should A Person Be?, subtitled "A Novel from Life," is the (fictionalized) story of Sheila Heti's friendship with painter Margaux Williamson, and of both their efforts to make meaningful (and sometimes ugly) art. Since its June release in the U.S., it's been lauded as indispensable reading and compared to the TV show Girls (by that show's creator Lena Dunham, among others), but also criticized as self-involved and "navel-gazing." Stories by and about young women — about "girls" and "girly" concerns — are increasingly capturing our attention, and they may force a still male-dominated cultural establishment to reconsider what it considers "serious."
Heti uses emails and transcripts of recorded conversations as well as traditional prose to tell a fictionalized story about herself and her real-life friend. The result is a novel that focuses intensely on the everyday interactions between two women, sometimes in what feels like real time. Heti told BuzzFeed Shift that she was inspired in part by Andy Warhol's circle, and their relationships that weren't "about the exclusivity of romantic love between two people, which can get exhausting to see portrayed everywhere, and elevated in these distorted ways." She asked, "Why should friendship be seen as secondary to romance? Montaigne and other writers have placed platonic friendship first and foremost in their hearts." And, she said, friendship between two women can have particularly interesting qualities: sometimes "a friendship with a man is like a break from yourself, while a friendship with a woman is like your interiority, doubled."