‘My Life Is a Joke’ by Sheila Heti

When I started reading ‘My Life Is a Joke’ for the first time I wasn’t sure that the story could live up to the title. But then there’s this ramblingly funny perfect paragraph about an ex-boyfriend desperate to have his memory remain alive after he is gone. The paragraph ends with him, his wife, his son and his son’s wife, and his grandchildren all dead, and the narrator’s matter-of-fact observation that after this “the life of my first boyfriend will be through.” The narrator turns out to be already dead herself. There’s an incredible description of being buried. And the story ends with a “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke. I’ve been struggling to explain why the story works so well. I can’t. All that I can safely say is that from the title right to the last line of the story no joke feels unearned. And really, the audacity to us a chicken road joke that doesn’t end up undermining the entire story. I mean goddamn.

First published in The New Yorker May 4, 2015 and available to subscribers to read here

‘The Poet and the Novelist as Roommates’ by Sheila Heti

A man I met in a bar, who was in fact a novelist, asked me if I liked Lydia Davis’s stories. I said yes. This was not enough: he asked me if I preferred her early or her later collections. I said ‘early’. He made it clear that this was the correct answer. And so he was able to continue his conversation with me. I have more usually gone for ‘poets’: they are worse.

From The Middle Stories, McSweeney’s, 2012. Available to read online here