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A Review of “The Really Funny Thing About Apathy” by Chelsea Martin

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Spencer Dew

“Sometimes I received text messages from people about things right as I was about to send them a text message about the very same thing, on a day when there were no previous text messages between us,” says one of the narrators of one of the stories in this collection, each hooked, in some thematic way, to a paradox, each exploring the quotidian this and that of life. Apathy figures, and humor:  there is the high school girl prepared to tell her boyfriend she’s pregnant–“Well, I’m not really pregnant, but that’s what I’m going to tell my boyfriend”–and the high school girl who thinks it “a pretty funny thing to do” when a boy brings a wrench to school, threatens another boy, and gets himself arrested. There is the narrator “consumed, of course, with thoughts of” an ex-lover, halfway attempting to bother to believe that “Maybe someday I would find someone sort of almost close to as good,” and there is one extended piece, echoing a notion from Zeno, as to why “Eating food from McDonald’s is mathematically impossible.” Cause and effect unwinds: “…before you can read something that reinforces your insecurities, you have to have insecurities./ And before you can have insecurities, you have to be awake for part of the day./ And before you can be awake for part of the day, you have to feel motivation to wake up.” There are funny bits throughout, about battery acid and parents, and the rhythm of paradox allows Martin both to skewer fallacies–“And before you can stop being so depressed, you have to understand what depression is”–and stretch out tangled motivations–“I wanted to make people think I was manipulative so that when I appeared weak they would think I was just trying to get something.” Much of the minimalism or whatever tone of these pieces–“He sent me a link to a music video. I can’t remember if I watched it or not.”–is too familiar, however, and ultimately there is something unsatisfying about the state of suspension in which Martin locates her characters, never quite making it, pondering impossibilities. “In a movie I had seen recently,” one narrator relates, “there was a scene in which two people looked at each other and made subtle facial expressions back and forth that conveyed very little.” “I belonged in that movie,” she says, but this book, with its generally stripped down language and glossed-over tone–“And before you can buy alcohol, you have to want your psychological state to be altered”–isn’t really anything like that movie. Rather than drawing an audience into the subtleties of the visual, or pulling readers along into the mechanics of language, The Really Funny Thing About Apathy plays some small and generally forgettable games. It’s like that video, the one you can’t remember watching or not.

Official Chelsea Martin Web Site
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