Sheila Heti on a couch.
Sheila Heti on a couch in a picture on a couch. Photo by Timothy Rysdyke

For the last few weeks, a completely inexplicable thing has been appearing in The Stranger. Interviews with real people whose identities have been obscured. Interviews about scenes made out of paper dolls. Here's part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5. Not traditional fiction but certainly not nonfiction, there's no good way to describe what these pieces of writing are.

Which will come as no surprise to Sheila Heti fans. The New York Times called her book How Should a Person Be? an "odd, original, nearly unclassifiable book... unlike any other novel I can think of." Almost everything in that book is real, drawn from Heti's life, in many cases recordings of conversations she had with her own friends in Toronto, transcribed.

For the Stranger series, named "Everyone Sees Through You," Heti interviews people about scenes constructed from paper dolls she found in a Make a Picture Story box. The MAPS test was invented by Edwin Shneidman in the 1940s. Years later, Evelyn Hooker used the MAPS test to help prove that being gay is not a mental illness. (If you've never read Evelyn Hooker's Wikipedia page, go read Evelyn Hooker's Wikipedia page. She is a gay-rights hero I'd never heard of until Heti's series using the MAPS test.)

Heti did not know what the MAPS test was—nor who Shneidman was—when she set out MAP'ing people. It was just a box her friend Margaux Williamson "discovered in a pile of free stuff on someone's lawn." (Margaux will be familiar to anyone who's read How Should a Person Be?) Neither Heti nor I made the connection to Hooker until The Stranger received a handwritten letter from a man in Bellevue, Washington, who said that he is Edwin Shneidman's son and that he had flipped open The Stranger recently and was very surprised and happy to see his father's invention being used as the basis of an interview in a newspaper. (I would quote the letter, but it was addressed to Heti and marked "personal." I've written back to the letter-writer, by hand, to get permission to publish it.)

Here are five cases—interviews plus diagnoses: