Peter John McLean
Mickey by Chelsea Martin (Reviews)
There are only two books that I reread immediately upon finishing. South of the Border, West of the Sun and Mickey by Chelsea Martin.
Chelsea’s newest release, published by Curbside Splendor, is written as a series of vignettes that semi-chronologically document the dissolution of the unnamed protagonist’s relationship with Mickey. Told mostly in poetically simple bursts, sprinkled with illuminating (and often hilarious) titles for art pieces, and garnished with just the right amount of casual shit talking about how much cheese is served at art shows, the book proves extremely entertaining.
One of Chelsea Martin’s most obvious talents in writing is her ability to characterize efficiently, for example,
Alexei looked at each of the paintings for what seemed like exactly one minute, avoided making eye contact with anybody, and then walked to the snack table to eat chips dipped evenly in salsa.
All two hundred pages of Mickey come with sentences like that, with Chelsea expertly describing the friends and lovers who surround the protagonist through their neurotic actions, eating habits, reality tv preferences, and, in the case of her roommate, a total unwillingness to allow criticism to stop her from putting together an art show.
While the book is primarily about the unraveling of the protagonist’s relationship with Mickey and the inevitable complexity of relations that dissolve at an acid-drip pace, some of the most profound parts are in Chelsea’s description of her mom, their almost nonexistent relationship, and their anemic phone conversations. The protagonist’s mom blocked her on Facebook, but since she’s created a new Facebook account just to follow her mom, she watches as her mom uploads Matchbox 20 videos and makes vague comments that she figures might be lobbed at her.
The book is also hilarious.
I dreamt I saw Mickey after several years of not seeing him. He had decided to become Hispanic for something having to do with fashion. He looked like a different person, but I hugged him and felt a strong familiar sadness.
There was so much I wanted to say to him, but our conversation was minimal and strained because he kept slipping into Spanish, which I couldn’t understand.
“You didn’t use to be Hispanic,” I said.
“Well,” Mickey said, “You didn’t used to be [indiscernible Spanish word[s]].”
I could fill this post with excerpts from the book because it’s very quotable—enough so I would buy a second copy to cut apart and tape to my walls, which are already covered in Hungarian children’s artwork and super weird mail from my cousin—but on top of the quality of the individual vignettes, I was pleasantly surprised by how cohesive the order of the pieces felt.
This is another of Chelsea Martin’s talents, one that I’m not so sure can be trained.
Books told in this format, semi-chronological and focused on the cellular level of fiction, tend to be hit or miss because of their stream of consciousness organization. It’s very easy to do it wrong, as plenty of people do by simple compiling a bunch of their (often boring as shit) thoughts into whatever order they wrote them in and then calling it complete.
However, Mickey by Chelsea Martin benefits from a strong opening (beginning with the protagonist deciding to end things with Mickey) and then floating through time and space to illustrate the protagonist’s life, job (and then lack of a job), relationships, and so on.
It’s a short book at about two hundred pages with plenty of white space between segments, but it doesn’t feel incomplete in any way. I was satisfied when I finished it, though I didn’t feel like I was done with the book, which is why I promptly began rereading it. The style of writing makes it an excellent pick for rereading, especially because once you’ve read it beginning to end it would be easy to pick up somewhere in the middle and simply read enjoyable parts (something I shamelessly do with Sam Pink’s Person and No One Can Do Anything Worse to You Than You Can).