Miranda July’s short fiction piece “The Shared Patio” deals with a lot of internal conflict as well as thought-provoking conceptions of the ill. The story revolves around an unnamed female narrator whose obsessive crush on her neighbor leads her to fantasize. Unfortunately, Vincent, her crush, is married to Helena, a nurse. Throughout the story the narrator makes various attempts at showing ownership of the patio the two parties share within their condominium. She doesn’t know whether her neighbors pick up these hints however. One day, she sees Vincent alone on the patio and proceeds to join him. They talk of their jobs, the narrator elated at Helena’s absence. However, as an inside joke about their magazine careers is made, Vincent suffers a seizure, being that he is epileptic. Instead of helping him, the narrator chooses to fanaticise a love affair between the two, in which Vincent has always loved her. Helena then wakes up the narrator, asking her for help as to what happened to Vincent. The narrator is instructed to retrieve a bag from within Helena’s apartment but gets distracted by photos of children on the refrigerator. Helena follows her and does the task herself, saving Vincent. The narrator leaves, contemplating another submission to her magazinea magazine focused on uplifting HIV patients.
Acute Tension: Vincent’s epileptic seizure.
Chronic Tension: The narrator’s way of balancing her own illness and obsession with her neighbor.
The author fluidly captures the narrator’s complex and compelling train of thought while achieving a brutal action scene, which I found very interesting. She captures the essence of someone’s obsession while putting in real, human thought. Within the text are snippets of articles/quizzes the narrator may have been thinking about or may have already submitted, which gave more depth to her character, in that she was trying to be uplifting yet used morbid, sad ideas (ex. car crashes, having no one to talk to, etc.) to juxtapose her desire. Her complexity made her easily one of my favorite characters, ever.
What I found really striking was the author’s trust in the reader. The author sprinkles hints at the narrator’s possible illnessmost likely HIV. She hints at this by repeating “It’s not your fault”, being that her case of HIV could have been contracted by someone who hadn’t told her or something of the sort. Furthermore, Vincent describes the narrator cleaning her bottom every night, which I found interesting, being that most people don’t focus on such a sensitive area. The narrator must have been trying to clean/protect something. The narrator also has an increased curiosity with death (HIV ultimately leading up to death, as a parallel). She uses car crashes, sinking boats, and loneliness as tools of positivity. She also wonders whether Vincent is dying or already dead after having his seizure; as well as when she sees the whale photo in the kitchen. She has a fixation on that whale that leads her into imagining its carcass and death. Finally, the narrator’s admiration of the children on the refrigerator. It is possible, though slim, that HIV patients who produce children could give that trait to them. And the narrator could also worry about the fact that no one would want to contract a STI just for a child. Once again, the author does a tremendous job balancing the character’s thoughts as well as this difficult theme into one story.
Finally, the acute and chronic tension intersect when Vincent is having his fit. The narrator sees this as an opportunity to make a move, to think about their future, as a man could be dying in front of her. This image as well as the hard choice the narrator had to make (between daydreaming and saving a life) allowed for the two tensions to meet.
The narrator uses repetition, assumptions made by the narrator, and figments of imagination as tools for the almost conservational and streamofconsciousness kind of tone evoked throughout the piece. These techniques give a sense of intimacy between the narrator and readers, and allows us to view her inner, tangled emotions and perspectives.