Miranda July is good at plot. Stories will come to her fully formed, like a gift from the gods; all she has to do is unwrap them. In her Los Angeles office, a little house where she keeps more than three decades’ worth of papers, photographs, awards, cassette tapes, and costumes, is a notebook that she filled in a single feverish train ride with the bones of her first feature film, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005). Something similar happened with her first novel, “The First Bad Man” (2015), and with her latest movie, “Kajillionaire” (2020): a sudden vision, a pause to ponder, then a rush to get it all down. July is a director, a performer, and an artist who likes to work in media that do not seem to be media at all until she shows up to exploit their latent possibilities. She has opened an interfaith charity shop in a fancy London department store and created an app that allows strangers to deliver intimate messages and narrated the inner monologues of models during an Hermès fashion show. But she thinks of herself, first and foremost, as a writer. Sometimes, on a film set, an actor will improvise a line and she will have to tell him, No, please stick to the script. She knows what she means to say.

In the fall of 2017, July started to feel a second novel coming on. This time, though, she wanted to do things differently, to embrace the mystery of not knowing—what the writer Grace Paley called “the open destiny of life”—for as long as she could. “I felt like there was a way in which one’s anxiety is very calmed by having a plot,” she told me recently. “You feel safe. And there’s a way in which working like that can limit things if you have what you think of as a good idea too early.”

She began recording notes on her laptop. “A mom dealing with trauma. Sexism and marriage. All the women struggling with all the good men,” the first one read. A few months later: “A sort of Lord of the Rings story of marriage and motherhood and middle age.” The notes accumulated, until, eventually, there were nearly two thousand of them. The novel that resulted, “All Fours,” will be published this month, by Riverhead.

In the past, July’s protagonists have been outsiders, tenderhearted weirdos who flaunt their glittering fictionality like a piece of costume jewelry. Old Dolio, the heroine of “Kajillionaire,” played by Evan Rachel Wood, is a small-time scammer who lives in an office building with her emotionally repressive parents. Cheryl Glickman, the narrator of “The First Bad Man,” is a reclusive employee of a women’s self-defense nonprofit who ends up in an erotically explosive relationship with her bosses’ daughter. “All Fours” breaks with this tradition. The novel’s narrator is an unnamed forty-five-year-old in L.A. with a mellow music-producer husband, Harris, and a sweet, precocious seven-year-old, Sam. She is a “semi-famous” artist and writer, a status that she is at once proud of and defensive about. She is a recognizable member of Miranda July’s world. She is, in fact, a lot like Miranda July.

The novel starts with a road trip. The narrator has come into some unexpected cash: a whiskey company has licensed a sentence she once wrote, paying her twenty thousand dollars to use it in an advertisement. (“It was a sentence about hand jobs but out of context it could also apply to whiskey,” she explains.) Her best friend, a sculptor named Jordi, advises her to spend the money on beauty, so she decides to drive to New York and luxuriate at the Carlyle Hotel. Less than an hour after setting off, she stops for gas in a nondescript town called Monrovia. A man in his early thirties cleans her windshield. He’s handsome, friendly. They chat. His name is Davey. He’s a Hertz employee; his wife, Claire, works at an interior-decorating company. They’re saving up a nest egg, Davey tells her—twenty thousand dollars.

The narrator checks into the Excelsior, a depressing motel nearby. She tells Harris that she’s still driving. What is she doing? “Who really knows why anyone does anything?” she asks, reasonably. “Who made the stars? Why is there life on Earth?”

The next day, she cancels her stay at the Carlyle. Then she calls Claire and hires her to renovate the room at the Excelsior. She wants to make it sumptuous, sublime, inspired by a Parisian hotel whose opulence once made her weep. She is willing to pay for the best of everything: wallpaper, carpet, tile, drapes. They agree on a fee. You can guess what it is. Within days, she and Davey have succumbed to the kind of magnetic, earth-shattering attraction that makes men compromise their gubernatorial careers and women join cults. The room at the Excelsior becomes their love nest, of a kind—Davey, an honorable soul, will not break his wedding vows by consummating their passion—but a terrible deadline looms. The narrator’s putative road trip must come to an end. What will happen when she returns home to face her life?

“If a book is really working, you’re in a narrow channel, and the water is going really fast,” the writer George Saunders, a friend of July’s, told me. That is what reading “All Fours” is like: being swept, paddleless, down a coursing river, submitting to the thrill of the rapids. July’s narrator is ecstatically trapped by a plot that she has no choice but to set in motion, even as it upends her life. July knows how this feels. When a character serves as an alter ego for her author, it is natural to wonder if the things that befall her are taken from reality. But what of the reverse? When you mold an avatar in your own image, then send her on bold and outrageous adventures, you may find that you have opened a portal from the invented world into the real one—that what you have dared to imagine on the page may enlarge your imagination for what can happen beyond it.

In early December, I knocked on the front door of July’s little house. No one answered. I went in. The main room, furnished with a long white table and a pair of fraying armchairs upholstered in a lemon-tree print, was lined with bookshelves. A long, dark braid that looked like it might have been scalped from Marina Abramović hung in a hairnet by a doorway. The doorway was familiar to me. While July was working on “All Fours,” she relieved the tedium of writing by dancing there, sensuously writhing in various costumes or states of undress. Sometimes she filmed herself and put the videos on Instagram, surfacing from her private labors to flirt with the world.

July has rented the house since 2003, when she moved from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles before making “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” Shortly after the film’s première, she and the writer-director Mike Mills began dating; she spent every night at his place in Silver Lake but kept all of her things at hers. Every few days, she would go back for a change of clothes and stumble into what felt like a time capsule. The kitchen was still stocked with beans and rice. The condoms from a previous boyfriend were still in the bathroom drawer. Nothing had changed, except her.

July kept the beans, threw out the condoms, and moved in with Mills. They married in 2009, and had a child, Hopper. She commuted daily to the little house to work, a fifteen-minute walk. But after she sold “All Fours,” in 2019, on the strength of a freewheeling seven-page proposal, she began to worry. How would she access the unencumbered focus that novel-writing demands? A book is like a child; it wants your full attention all the time. July’s solution was to spend one night a week—Wednesdays—back at her house. Released from the disruption of domestic obligations, she could write as soon as she woke.

July’s voice entered the room, followed by the rest of her. In the flesh, she does not seem like a person inclined to break into sensuous dance. She is reflective, deliberate, serious to the point of grave, though emotion can bring her, in a flash, to tears. “She’s very precise in the way she speaks and in the way she thinks and the way she dresses,” the writer Sheila Heti, who is close with July, told me. Today, she was wearing gray Wranglers with a navy-blue Nike windbreaker debonairly draped over a ribbed white turtleneck: haute greaser.

“This is a bit in transition,” July said, gesturing at the room. She had been reorganizing. On the floor was a collage of photographs that she was tinkering with in preparation for an upcoming exhibition of her work, which would be presented by Fondazione Prada in Milan. As we went to sit down, she calmly let me know that I had stepped on it.

July opened her laptop to show me more of the notes for “All Fours.” Many had to do with aging. In two months, she would turn fifty; the fact of passing fully and finally out of youth had been one of the novel’s instigating themes. July had felt herself beginning to cross that frontier when she was shooting “Kajillionaire.” “I was around these women younger than me, and then Debra Winger,” she said. “There were all kinds of things that I was watching her go through that I could relate to, more than I could to the younger women.” Winger played Old Dolio’s severe, aggressively unmaternal mother, and July asked that she wear no makeup: not an easy request for any actress, let alone one in her sixties who had once been celebrated for her looks. “I had never been around someone who was a sex symbol in her youth, like a literal, mainstream sex symbol,” July told me. “I was kind of, like, ‘I think maybe I wasn’t hot enough to have the loss be something that I have to work so hard to process.’ ”

“You dont seem pleased to have a former royal as a neighbor.”

“You don’t seem pleased to have a former royal as a neighbor.”

Cartoon by Frank Cotham

Still, the idea of aging as a loss—of beauty, of femininity, of the known self itself—had stuck. In “All Fours,” the narrator has never given serious thought to getting older until she has a routine gynecology appointment and is prescribed estradiol, an estrogen cream. This is ironic: preoccupied with her longing for Davey, she had explained her moodiness to Harris by telling him that she was menopausal. But that had been inconceivable, a bluff. Now her doctor tells her that she is indeed in perimenopause. The symptoms listed by WebMD include “reduced libido, or sex drive.” She finds a chart of sex hormones that shows men’s testosterone comfortably cruising near the same levels over a lifetime; women’s estrogen looks like a camel’s hump, crashing at fifty. “We’re about to fall off a cliff,” she tells Jordi, in a panic. Davey has reawakened her dormant carnal desire, her ecstatic connection to her own body, just in time for her to lose it forever.

July read a note from 2018: “Thinking about what aging means for the trans child, the need for hormones and blockers.” (Hopper is nonbinary, as is Sam, the narrator’s kid.) “And how the physical changes of middle age/old age out anyone who is living as more feminine than they were born, which most women do. We find that makeup and cute clothes don’t work anymore.” The note went on:

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