For Miranda July, “All Love Stories Are Hormone Stories”

In her new novel, All Fours, the multi-hyphenate spins a liberating tale about middle age and menopause.

A portrait of Miranda July wearing a jean jacket.
Elizabeth Weinberg

As Miranda July approached middle age, she felt she was nearing an ominous boundary, as if on the precipice of a dark, unfamiliar room. So she set about turning the lights on.

July, who’s 50, spent about a year speaking to doctors and other women, and more doctors and other women, and looked at her future anew. “The very quality of my thoughts changed,” the author, filmmaker, and artist tells Bustle. “I got excited. Instead of having fleeting thoughts while looking in the mirror again and again, which I’d push away and feel ashamed about, instead I now have this really rich conversation within myself, and with other women, that’s funny and sexual and really daring. It has so much energy in it, and is so different from what was out there, the unwritten emptiness.”

Her sophomore novel, All Fours, fills in that emptiness. Although informed by July’s research, and even fact-checked by a doctor, it’s no textbook. Fans of her 2015 debut, The First Bad Man, as well as her films and visual art, know better than to expect a dry appraisal.

The unnamed narrator of All Fours is a semi-famous artist who’s built a respectable life — complete with a caring husband and beloved child — by compartmentalizing the wilder parts of herself. When she stumbles into a sexual awakening just as perimenopause sets in, her careful system of grit, grit, gritting falls apart; her conception of desire shifts and expands, slamming against the walls of her respectable home. The journey is, by turns, horny and embarrassing and ludicrous and beautiful.

Life on the other side, it turns out, is just as weird and messy and expansive. And though there is a wisdom that comes with age, the indignities and discomfort never fall away entirely.

Below, July discusses marriage, the merits of earnestness, and the similarities between herself and the book’s narrator.

With something like marriage, you pull on one thread, and if you’re able to pull it out and everything’s still standing, you’re suddenly like, “Wait, which one of these threads is essential? Where is the love?”

There’s a lot being written now about the anger and frustration of motherhood and disappointing husbands. In this book, she loves her kid, her husband’s a pretty good guy, but there’s still something that isn’t working. Why did you want to write a story like that?

It’s not really a story about him. I think there are a lot of women who have a feeling something’s not working, but fortunately or unfortunately, their partner is not the problem. He’s not so terrible that they can be like “Absolutely, I should get out of here.” It might be the structure of marriage. It might be the structure of what [she allows herself] within a patriarchy.

We all know the story of blowing up your life, and it seems to be all or nothing. I was more interested in [questions like] “What in a given day could you do that’s different? Is there a way of thinking differently, or slightly changing the structure with your partner?” Those are the kinds of things I was doing as I wrote the book. I didn’t want blow up my life.

You can make small changes that can lead to something good.

Small changes is a bit of a misnomer. With something like marriage, you pull on one thread, and if you’re able to pull it out and everything’s still standing, you’re suddenly like, “Wait, which one of these threads is essential? Where is the love? Because a lot of these don’t make me happy, so maybe we can change it.”


The narrator of All Fours is unnamed, and because she has some similarities to you, you’ve acknowledged that some readers might assume she is you. How do you feel about that?

Sure, there’s part of me that wants to make sure everyone knows how hard I worked on fiction; that it’s not a diary. But I took a few real details to color the water with, because I thought it would add aliveness and energy. I am interested in all the different ways you can make something feel really alive. I’ll risk almost anything in the name of an art experiment. Of course, everyone close to me can see the fiction, because they know my real life, so I forget it’s not obvious until I talk to people.

Do you ever wish you could disappear in the reader’s mind, that they could come to the book without an awareness of who you are?

Yes. In my last novel, [The First Bad Man,] I worked very hard to create characters that were clearly not me. Most writers do not write movies and then go act in them. I was sort of like, “I created this problem, and rather than laboriously working against it, why don’t I see if I can use it as a tool?”

What do you think it can do as a tool?

You tell me. What was it like? I actually haven’t asked anyone this who doesn’t know me. I have my imaginings of what it felt like.

I knew it wasn’t you, and yet there were similarities, like the narrator’s profession. We’ve gotten really weird about how people write with the rise of autofiction, and also just social media and people being so obsessed with the self.

I would agree. I don’t answer this way to be rude, but in my head, I do think, “I’m pretty sure this is just what fiction is.” So much fiction I read growing up, I just assumed, “Yeah, you’ve got some skin in the game here. You wouldn’t be writing this book if there wasn’t some intersection with your life.”

It’s funny. I have close friends who are always put in that autofiction territory, like Sheila Heti. None of them relate to it. But I will say I’m a lot more interested in the nerdy things of characters and plot and twists and reveals than most of the people in that category.

July in 2015 with her debut book, The First Bad Man.Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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All Fours is the horniest book I’ve read in a minute, but not in the romance-novel way, where it’s designed to turn the reader on. What was your goal in writing the sex scenes?

Sex is another one of those mysterious spaces, like perimenopause. What is it made out of? We’ve described it in this very narrow way, but I literally don’t understand the mind-body connection. It seems like we’ve all agreed on something about what sex is, but it’s a bit arbitrary. Part of what I was trying to do in the book was to have sex be a lot of different things and not always consummated in the way we expect or with the person we expect.

It’s an ongoing relationship with yourself, with all its ebbs and flows. If you think of consummation as money. Where do you want to spend your consummation, your sex scene? [In the book,] I tried to spend it on the things that were most expensive, most impossible to buy. You can buy a guy coming anywhere, or just, “It felt so good. We came together and it felt so good.” But it’s harder to buy shifting your whole relationship to aging women. I don’t know how to buy that. No one’s selling it. I don’t know how to get it. It’s a perspective shift.

If you had to run with only one crowd for the rest of your life, the book world, the art world, or the film world, which would you choose?

The book world, because there are more women — if we’re talking about actual worlds where the gatekeepers have let in women, not just the artists themselves. That said, this book is dedicated to my friend Isabelle, who’s a sculptor. Our relationship is so important to me, and there’s a fictional version of it in the book. I get so much from watching her process.

Have you talked to her about how she feels about being second-order perceived, because people can’t separate fact and fiction?

I said, “Do you want your last name there? And I suggest maybe not putting it, because everyone will look you up, and you’re bigger than this book.” And yes, some diehard people will connect the dots using Instagram or whatever, but for most people, it’s just going to be a name, Isabelle. We talked about it a little bit, and she’s been so supportive. She’s not that way. She’s never worried about that kind of thing.

July at the 2023 Academy Awards.Emma McIntyre/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I feel like earnestness is a little bit out of fashion right now. How do you think about earnestness and its utility?

I’m earnest. Earnest has a bad connotation, but I always like people who are honest and care a lot and are deeply invested in things. They should be funny, too. Or if not funny, at least having some joy. I have friends who aren’t funny at all, but they’re such a joy to be around because of their sense of style or their take on life.

People who are never earnest are often not very fun.

Right, that’s true. Because you don’t really know what ground you’re standing on.

Given that you accumulated all this knowledge about perimenopause and menopause, and you could only slide so much into the book, would you ever consider doing a nonfiction project, like It Chooses You?

There was a long time where I was like “I’m going to somehow manage to do this impossible thing, which is a very scientific novel. A self-help book that’s a novel.” But that book came out, called What Fresh Hell Is This? [by Heather Corinna], specifically about perimenopause. It’s very hip and has a lot of room for queer stuff. It’s the kind of book I was looking for.

I actually hunted down that author and talked to her on the phone and told her “I’m writing a novel.” And she was like, “Oh, how great to take on this topic, but in a novel, where people can enjoy the ride.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.