Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Sheila Heti's "My Life Is a Joke" was originally published in the May 11, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

May 11, 2015Please leave any comments you have below while we work at getting some thoughts together.

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By |2015-05-04T00:25:33-04:00May 4th, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Sheila Heti|Tags: |14 Comments


  1. Adrienne May 4, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Oh, boy. I did not like this one… Wish I did, though. I almost feel like it would prove my intelligence to find depth and life’s true meaning in this tale.

    “My Life is a Joke” felt like sitting in a quiet bar, when a comedienne bumbles onto the stage. Rather sudden. Boisterous and awkward. Ratcheting noise and poor humor into your nightcap. That almost seemed to be the story’s scene: a dead woman walks into a bar – stop me of you’ve heard this one – and tells you the joke, the irony, of her life.

    I have been reading short stories, trying to see what really makes a shorter piece into a “story”. Here – it was the last line for me. The rest was a meandering vignette, with a lot of self-pity, throat-clearing, and mike-tapping.

    So maybe I am questioning my intelligence, but I am going out on a rather short limb to say that this piece was not fantastic.

  2. avataram May 4, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    More than the story, I am hoping Betsy writes about Dan Chiasson’s review of Terrance Hayes & Deborah Landau’s poetry, and the poems themselves.

  3. Roger May 7, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    I’m with Adrienne, except the only intelligence I’m doubting is that of the editors of TNY. This tedious, unclever piece would be rightly rejected by my kids’ high school literary magazine. It had one thing going for it: the observation about the ex-boyfriend who was looking for someone to witness his entire life.


  4. lotusgreen May 8, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    The boyfriend was right.

  5. Julian Wyllie May 8, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    I like this story. It was annoying to read in a good way. All of the self-pity seemed like it was on purpose. The writer, to me, intentionally wrote it that way to present a distraught protagonist. It wouldn’t make sense to use a protagonist that was very self-aware and conscious of their own ridiculousness. This character needed to be off-putting to get the point across.

  6. Ken May 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    I more or less liked it too. I agree with Julian, she is off-putting, but her desire to be seen and known is rather poignant and the story reads like a weird logic problem–I am a joke, I am unwitnessed, I can be witnessed admitting I am a joke–a weird syllogism. I think a story that is this short is far more tolerable at its length. If this was 8-10 pages, it might be too much. That said, the idea of the corpse flying across country and speaking at an event doesn’t quite work for me even as obvious magic realist stuff.

  7. Julian Wyllie May 10, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    I definitely agree with your points too Ken. Maybe I liked it only because I turned the page once and it was already over. If this was as long as the typical New Yorker piece I might have ripped the pages out. But yes, there are points where the writer almost tries a little too hard to get the point across with the magic. I prefer a little bit more subtlety. All in all, I like stories like this that are a bit more simple and easier to understand than some of the lofty “look at how brilliant I am” pieces. But I also understand why this one won’t be enjoyed by very many people.

  8. Archer May 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    I thought this was a really poor story. In my view, a better writer could have pulled off that unpleasant, off-putting tone more persuasively. Someone like George Saunders is capable of producing that kind bathos and surrealism, turning the ridiculous into the sublime (or vice versa). But this was total amateur hour.

  9. Sean H May 15, 2015 at 3:58 am

    Agree with Archer and Roger; this was pretty terrible and has absolutely no place in The New Yorker. For some reason, in film people like Miranda July, in TV people like Lena Dunham, and in lit people like this Sheila Heti. They’re a trio of talentless hacks that I think people are afraid to criticize for fear of being called “sexist.” It’s about the only way I can explain their popularity with a certain set of PC-obsessed urban hipster of the most self-righteous and self-congratulatorily “edgy” sort who mistake reflexive purgatives as insightful bits of intellect or art. When people used to drop that old cliche of “so-and-so can’t write their way out of a paper bag,” this is the sort of tribe I imagine them referring to. Really banal, silly, easy, simplistic stuff here. Couldn’t agree more with “really poor,” “unpleasant,” “off-putting,” amateurish and wouldn’t get accepted by most decent high school literary magazines.

  10. Esther Smoller May 16, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    At least it didn’t have that awful imagery you usually have to wade through to get to the story.

  11. Ace May 25, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    I loved it.

  12. Madwomanintheattic June 6, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I appreciate the heck out of this story – it was unsuccessful, yes, for all the reasons the clever commentators above noted, but it made an attempt to enlist a voice from beyond that, blessed be, did not refer to zombies; and most effectively it created a meditation on a cruel remark. I think that’s original and praiseworthy, and it’s the part of the story that worked for me.

  13. peggy July 31, 2015 at 12:45 am

    I liked this story. I liked the riff on the trite phrase/insult expression and the conceit of heaven being full of annoying laughter. The short story (perfect length) contrasts the pathetic emotional vocabulary of us mere humans in the face of cosmic realities. As one extended metaphor, it packs a wallop.

  14. Adrienne August 28, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Not a Heti fan, but found this new take on one of her stories interesting:

    It is a cut-up… One of her stories has been reduced to “bare essence” and illustrations have been drawn… the link above has the entire piece… I’d love to hold it in my hand like a book to get the full effect, but it was fascinating.

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