For years, Chelsea Martin existed vaguely in my peripheral as someone who either had a face that looked waxy and unreal – like some sort of sweaty plastic – or an author photo that was somehow edited to make her face look fake and insane. This was the result, I think, of seeing this picture three or four times over the course of a number of years, usually as a small thumbnail, looking at it very briefly each time.
I’ve since read nearly all of Martin’s books, and spent time with her IRL. And although her protagonists – self-conscious, self-aware, self-centered – seem consistently like characters created by a person who could possibly have a permanently very sweaty face, Martin, regardless of how things may or may not have seemed in the past, does not. For years, that fixed image of her mannequin-esque face betrayed the multitude of selves which manifest in her art, and also it seemed really funny to me. I feel like many other people have probably thought about this, but as far as I know, no one has written about it.
In Mickey, Martin’s forthcoming novella from Curbside Splendor, the protagonist, a recently single/jobless artist, navigates relationships – vague sexual partners, friends, an alcoholic mother who won’t speak to her, the *art world* – all in the context of her constantly critical inner dialogue and worldview. Mickey is a book that happens in spite of external circumstance – a book that takes place internally, because that is where Martin’s protagonist lives.
Here are two more reviewer-style sentences I thought of while reading Mickey…
“If Martin’s previous novel Even Though I Don’t Miss You chronicles the absurdity of being in a long-term monogamous relationship, Mickey chronicles the absurdity of being a something in the vague relationship(s) that follow.”
“Mickey is about loss. More specifically, the loss of a relationship, a job, and oneself within failed attempts to deal with those.”
Here’s some other stuff about the book…
Sometimes when I know that someone is coming to my house and is about to be there, I adjust what I’m doing to make myself seem cooler or harder working than I think I’d appear to [person coming over] if I simply continued doing whatever I was doing. I open more word documents, I click on different websites. In Mickey, Martin writes, “I have preemptively left tabs open in my browser showing web results for ‘Henry Darger’ and ‘are octopuses smart’ in case I die today and someone wants to know how interesting I was.” Seems funny/relatable.
One notable thing about my experience with Mickey was that I didn’t really like it at first. I don’t know why I didn’t like it at first, or what happened when that made me start to like it, and it’s rare that I end up liking books I don’t like right away, but with Mickey that happened. It’s also generally hard for me to talk about why I like or dislike art, because more often than not I have no idea why or why not, and because I don’t have a language for it – I haven’t really said anything re: “why” or “why not” so far in this review, besides “Seems funny/relatable” – but I suspect the not liking then liking of Mickey had something to do with me eventually “getting into,” or gaining more context/perspective on, the protagonist’s tone, and [other things].
I enjoyed Martin’s thoughts re: art and being an artist. I like the sentence “Anything can be humiliating, but sometimes I think that making art is a uniquely humiliating experience. For your work to be successful, it has to posses or imply original thought (which is impossible), intelligence (which is dependent on the intelligence of other people and, therefore, is uncontrollable), or visual appeal (which is pointless and stupid and demeaning).”
I felt intellectually and emotionally stimulated thinking about the sentence “Maybe sarcasm is not a mask to hide my true self from the world, but colored glasses that help me appreciate its beauty.”
Another line I liked: “When people are young they think nothing is going to hurt them, and nothing ever does, and gradually they realize that the hurt is coming from within.”
Chelsea Martin’s anxieties and thought processes, complex while stylistically concise throughout Mickey, were fun for me to read and think about. I felt amused by the way she seemed to reframe conventionally bleak thoughts and unexciting downgrades (job to no job, boyfriend to no boyfriend, bedroom to no bedroom) into refreshingly intricate and interesting musings. I will probably re-read Mickey 1-3x over the course of the year 2016.