‘The Metal Bowl’ by Miranda July

The American writer Miranda July was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story Award in 2018, and I remember reading her knowing, deviant story, ‘The Metal Bowl’, over lunch at work, and laughing out loud as this eccentric story progressed. In it, I connected with so many great sentences (the kind of thoughts that you think are unique, as you haven’t seen articulated before, but the writer puts them clearly on the page): “If I went to the mall immediately and got a new sheet, then the chore wouldn’t have time to gather weight. Once a task goes on the to-do list it settles in, grows roots – the trick is to pre-empt that.” ‘The Metal Bowl’ is about a woman who is grappling with ageing, with domesticity and the tedium of marriage – and who is haunted by an adult video she filmed in her youth. “The video shoot became the central sexual experience of my life; to this day, I can’t orgasm unless I imagine that I’m the pale man, the dad, or the young lesbian watching it, sometimes all of them together, crowded around one computer screen.” The protagonist wants to feel alive – and wanted – again, and finds a moment of clarity and sexual tension with her neighbour during an earthquake. But it is short-lived. “Joel had taken the exquisite energy of our experience and ploughed it back into his marriage. How wise. This option had never occurred to me.” The narrator ultimately reconnects with her husband in a gloriously outlandish (and remarkably touching) scene, involving the title’s metal bowl.

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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