‘The Metal Bowl’ by Miranda July

Like many of Miranda July’s narrators, the woman in ‘The Metal Bowl’ has trouble letting people know who she is and what she really wants. It’s a long and complicated story, with many strands and long detours into the past that then loop back into the present. A married woman – who adores her husband – goes out to buy a fitted sheet. She notices a handsome man looking at her. This has happened to her before, though not for a long time. She thinks the man recognises her from a porn video she starred in when she was young and broke. The story swoops off into an account of the circumstances that led to her to make this video, the shoot itself, and how the experience affected her. Her own sexuality, she explains, is now

oriented around myself in that video and anyone who’d seen it. There was only one boyfriend I didn’t tell. He was a very classy man, emotionally speaking, and I didn’t want to give him any indication of basket-casery. After I married him, I kept meaning to bring it up, to draw him into the fold of my sexuality, such as it was. But I waited too long; we were so close now.

This is the real theme: the enormous silences that can exist within the intimacy of marriage. The ending is both moving and surprising. But along the way there are plenty of painfully funny little shocks and moments when the writer whips the rug from under our feet. The story was written to serve as an introduction to a book of photographs by the artist Friedl Kubelka. In an interview on the New Yorker website July discusses the way that came about and she says about other writers’ work: “I’m often drawn in by a description of a woman thinking something familiar that’s never been articulated before.” This, I think, is something she herself does very well.

First published in The New Yorker, 4 September 2017. You can read it online here or listen to it read aloud by novelist Emma Cline here. The story was shortlisted for the Sunday Times / Audible Short Story Award in 2018, there’s an interview with Miranda July here

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