Martin Essays

Praise for Caca Dolce

“Martin’s honest writing exists above the confines of fear and social norms. She is . . . a breath of pure oxygen in a literary environment that often shies away from female grit . . . her writing is sweaty, uncomfortable, and enchanting . . . She taps into the consciousness of her past selves with precision and care, respecting the integrity and desires of those younger women. A sure hit for fans of Sara Benincasa’s Agorafabulous! and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“For anyone who has ever felt weird or poor or misunderstood or just . . . weird, well, this is the book for you. Martin chronicles her own bizarre upbringing in such a way that the strangeness of it all manages to still feel universal. She recounts everything from her attempt to manifest an alien invasion (she was just 11; what 11-year-old doesn't want E.T. to visit?) to the fights she had with her family, to what it was like to be diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome as an adolescent. It's a wild ride of a memoir, and a true glimpse into the mind of an artist as she's figuring out what life is all about." ―Kristin Iversen, Nylon

“Martin's tragicomic essays on everything from ‘how to bullshit’ to the tormenting tics of Tourette's evoke a misfit's paradise, where the author finally learns to view her ‘past selves as if they are my daughters.’” ―O Magazine, “10 Titles To Pick up Now”

“These essays provide a portrait of one narrator’s search for identity through a complexity of stories that offer a door into adolescent confusion, pain, amusement, and awkwardness . . . Caca Dolce provides a journey into Martin’s personal experience, allowing empathy toward the years we all take to find ourselves while navigating through awkward terrain.’” ―The Rumpus

“This collection of personal reminiscences―at turns shocking and yet surprisingly relatable―reveal as many seminal, universal truths about the complexities of coming of age in the digital era as they do the deep contemplations of a truly unique and gifted writer and young woman.” ―Harper's Bazaar, “7 New Books You Need to Read in August”

“Martin, a writer who’s earned a cult following with her books Mickey and Even Though I Don’t Miss You, turns to nonfiction in her debut essay collection, bringing her irreverent voice to tales of childhood, crushes, art school and the California town she grew up in where people just can’t seem to leave. “I stopped using spoons one day,” Martin writes in an essay about high school. “I was becoming weird, I knew. And it didn’t seem like the good kind of weird, like the eccentric arty weird that could be appreciated by other people.” If you can relate, pick this one up.” ―Huffington Post

“This is the book on top of the stack, which means it is getting the most play currently. Chelsea Martin writes great millennial essays that make you forget that 'millennial' is usually treated as a pejorative. This one is good for ’80s and ’90s babies who grew up with AIM.” ―Dayna Evans, The Cut

“The author takes a hard look at her youth, chronicling the tumult and hardship that modern American life visits on the young, thanks mostly to the regrettable behavior of grown-ups who are scarcely grown themselves . . . the arc of growing self-awareness lends the story both gravity and an odd appeal.”―Kirkus Reviews

“These essays chart Chelsea Martin’s life from her girlhood into her early adult years. They are personal, revealing, funny, and wince-inducing all at once. Martin grew up poor in a poor California town, and here she lays it all out: her struggles with family, love, sex, money, illness, and more. This is a quick read, and one that will stay with you.” ―Book Riot

“Funny, candid, and searchingly self-aware, this essay collection tells the story of Chelsea Martin’s coming of age as an artist. A book about relationships, class, art, sex, money, and family―and about growing up weird, and poor, in the late 1990s and early 2000s.” ―The Rumpus

“Martin is an incredibly entertaining writer, one who―as the title of her book suggests―is willing to take a few risks, and to mix the high with the low.” ―Jonathan Lee, BOMB Magazine

“In these essays, Martin is bold and unflinching, poking and prodding at herself and her memories and motivations . . . A lesser writer would tell these stories as cute anecdotes, and the result would have been a funny, perfectly enjoyable book. But these essays go further than that, probing deeply into not just Martin’s own experiences but what these experiences say about more complex themes such as place, class, and identity. Because of this, Caca Dolce doesn’t fall into that often-cited pitfall of the genre as being mere 'navel gazing,' and is instead incredibly nuanced, relatable, and wholly distinctive.” ―Juliet Escoria, Electric Literature

“The essays in Caca Dolce are raw, unflinching and deeply personal, written in a detailed narrative style that places the reader alongside Martin as she relives each memory, interweaving thoughts from the now 30-something author to contextualize her younger self's inner monologues.” ―Inlander

“I found each and every person you write about in this book as people you love and care about. Deeply. The person I most related to besides the narrator was your father and step-father. I kept thinking what if I was in this situation? What if certain things in my life turned out differently? How would I be? What would it be like to raise a daughter who was ten times smarter than me when she was ten? Life is an impossible situation and folks are just doing the best they can. You show us this in your book. Anyone with any sense can see this. In terms of your siblings―I would have died to have such an amazing artist as a sister. I’m sure they will see this too. If not now, then someday.” ―Scott McClanahan, The Fanzine

“Ever since she started garnering praise in the 'alt lit' scene, Chelsea Martin has stood out as one of the most honest, unpretentious, and hilarious authors alive, and her new book, sub-titled 'Essays from a Lowbrow Life' exemplifies each of those qualities. It is a brutally self-deprecating, yet entirely relatable and moving memoir of an eccentric child of the Internet. If you don’t believe it, just read the introduction and see if you can walk away without wanting more.” ―The Brooklyn Paper

"Chelsea Martin's essay collection Caca Dolce is filled with reminiscences funny, shocking, and totally relatable." ―David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy

“Readers who gobbled down Chelsea Martin’s quirky novel Mickey (2016) should sink their teeth into Caca Dolce, her latest collection of essays, which features the American writer at her candid and erudite best.” ―Drawn & Quarterly bookstore

“The strangeness of a child normally doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but Martin finds a way to present her childhood curiosities logically and with deadpan delivery. She is honest and self-deprecating while maintaining a certain aloofness to her humor that keeps readers unflinchingly by her side.” ―Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction

“After WORK was already sent to the printer, I read Caca Dolce by Chelsea Martin, and I thought, Wow, her book is like a sibling to mine. Caca Dolce and WORK are kinda both these weird animals that stepped in [the] same mutagen on the way to their own fun deformity.” ―Bud Smith, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Caca Dolce is indie lit star Chelsea Martin’s finest work―nuanced, intelligent, emotionally vulnerable, and, as always, hilarious. Do not read in public unless you want to look like a cackling lunatic.”―Juliet Escoria, author of Black Cloud

“I’m probably not Chelsea Martin's biggest fan because I'm sure she has legitimate stalkers, but I'm way up there. Gold, gold I tell ya." ―Mary Miller, author of The Last Days of California

“Chelsea Martin is one of the best American writers alive. Savage and sharp, tender and hilarious, Martin’s Caca Dolce is a book like she’s never written before. She’s given us poetry, prose, novels, and comics. Now she’s given us a perfect personal essay collection as well. You'll only think one thing after reading it. Chelsea Martin can do anything.”―Scott McClanahan, author of Hill William

Caca Dolce explores the discomfort, melancholia and absurdity of taking up space in the world when we aren't sure if we really deserve it. Deeply human―it's a lonely book that made me feel less alone.”―Melissa Broder, author of So Sad Today

“I highly enjoyed Caca Dolce―a weird, funny, moving, complex memoir that's excitingly like if Diane Williams edited a 500-page novel down to 200 pages.”―Tao Lin, author of Taipei

“Chelsea Martin delivers neon electric jolts of reality in deadpan perfection. Refreshing, hilarious, self-deprecating, as far from pretentious as you can get―you will find you’re no longer alone with your weirdness after reading this book.”―Molly Brodak, author of Bandit

“This is my favorite book by Chelsea Martin and I’ve read every book by her and even published one. If David Sedaris were younger, hipper, and had once subscribed to Cat Fancy, he might write like this.”―Elizabeth Ellen, author of Person/a, editor of Short Flight/Long Drive Books

“Martin’s essays are confessional. And they are political. In writing them, in deciding to tell her story, on her terms and in her voice, the author has exerted her power―even as she writes about so many instances of powerlessness, often a powerlessness unique to being a woman.” ―Shameless

Praise for Mickey (2016)

“Chelsea Martin continues to prove herself the preeminent chronicler of Internet age malaise and I fucking love it. Mickey takes her provocative poetry long form, weaving the tangled tale of a breakup that shouldn't be as confusing as it is. This has replaced Anne of Green Gables as my cozy times reading. Who the fuck knows what that says about me, but it says a LOT about the power of Chelsea's writing." ―Lena Dunham

“There is no other writer who makes me laugh out loud more than Chelsea Martin. Both hysterical and heart-wrenching, Mickey is a well-rounded, hyper-realistic portrait of heartbreak in the age of the Internet.” ―Mira Gonzalez, author of i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together

“Beyond superlatives but I'll use them anyway: intelligent, hysterical, elusive, an exquisite original. If you enjoy thinking, laughing, and self-loathing, read this book." ―Chloe Caldwell, author of Women and I'll Tell You in Person

Mickey is an arrestingly immediate and personal work. The experience is less like that of reading a traditional narrative, and more like flipping through the open tabs of the internet browser that is the nameless first-person narrator's brain.” ―Chicago Tribune

“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.” ―Jordan Castro, Entropy magazine

“By the end of the book, you can’t help but think you’ve taken a journey with the protagonist, watching her catch her stride artistically and honestly, through sadness, sarcasm, and success.” ―A.V. Club

Mickey . . . [is] funny, tragic, relatable, fantastic, dark, but also, in its own unique way, weirdly hopeful . . . She [writes] with a precision that shows real, learned technique, an ability to satirize with deeper meaning.” ―Electric Literature

Praise for Even Though I Don’t Miss You (2013)

“Martin's a brooding minimalist who is great on relationships, the choreography of neurosis, and the feedback loop between selfishness and self-abnegation." ―Justin Taylor, Vice

“About halfway through, I said, ‘This book is giving me feelings.’” ―Mary Miller, author of The Last Days of California

“Her deceptively relaxed prose perfectly captures the Facebook-guzzling void that constitutes modern heartbreak.”―Lena Dunham, Wall Street Journal

“You know that emotion after a breakup, where you feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach? Martin somehow manages to capture it and wrap it up in a tiny book of words, except it’s not depressing―we swear.” ―Nylon

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Some writers make poor critics because they can only ever describe themselves, so it is greatly to his credit that Martin Amis really does write about Nabokov in his essays about Nabokov, and about Roth in the pieces about Roth. His portrait of Iris Murdoch is more about her presence in life than on the page, and this gap allows in some other thing that is hard to identify – is it sorrow? “I knew Iris; I have respectfully kissed that cunning, bashful, secretive smile” – maybe it’s just Oxford.

His piece on JG Ballard is sublime for managing to illuminate the work of both writers at once, and should stand as a classic in any discussion about influence, but it is hard to see anyone other than Amis in a piece about Saul Bellow’s essays. This reads like a manifesto, a note to self. Bellow is “abnormally alive to social gradations”; a highbrow writer who nonetheless has “a reflexive grasp of the street, the machine, the law courts, the rackets”. He is a “rampant instinctivist”, whose “fictional and non-fictional voices intertwine and cross-pollinate”. Bellow had certain core principles: The writer must “resist the heavy influences” of people such as Flaubert and Marx as well as “the savage strength of the many”, because the imagination has an “eternal naiveté” that he cannot afford to lose.

This advice about authority as well as about the ravening crowd is possibly something Amis could have taken more to heart. For Amis, there is Daddy and there is hoi polloi, there is genius and the tabloids, art and controversy, single and many (you might carefully add Stalin and the masses here). The reader, however, is your friend. According to Bellow, the writer should assume “a certain psychic unity” with his readers, the idea that “others are in essence like me and I am basically like them”.

But, are you, dear reader, like Saul Bellow? Are you, in essence, like Martin Amis? You wish. Dream on.

When I was 20, I picked up Amis’s early novel The Rachel Papers in a bookshop, opened it halfway through, and finished it where I stood. Then I bought it in order to read the first half. It was all voice, all personality, completely thrilling. As a fiction writer, Amis writes close to opinion. He is always putting it up to you somehow, making the reader feel brilliant too. Or a bit stupid. This is the best fun going when everyone is drunk, as they seemed to be in the 1980s, and literary London was like one long dinner party in which everyone knew where you went to school. Amis lets the reader inside, at the table, talking first and checking after, clever as two sticks.

Fiction loves a bit of bullshit, or a character who is full of it, so arguing through fiction allows the writer to be right, even when he is being wrong. The essay form is not so capacious, requiring, as it does, a single persona, if not entirely a single point of view. The Rub of Time is Amis at his considered best, witty, erudite and unafraid. You can sit and be like Martin Amis all day, wondering how he could be so right about the Republican party in 2011, so prescient about Trump as early as May 2016. The hierarchy thing, that need to revere older writers, may be a little bit male for some, but male is the way that Amis rolls, which makes him one of the best people on the planet to write about the porn industry (a chivalrous piece, as it happens). He is sweetly sentimental when it comes to the British royal family (why?), funny about tennis, always brilliant about the body, scorching in his refusal of death, its sorrows and humiliations.

There are moments of uncertainty. About “Trump and women”, he says: “This isn’t new.” It must be the simplest sentence in the book and yet we don’t know what he is referring to. “This is a wound with the scab off.” Hard to say where the hurt lies; the women thing is just, perhaps, a general suppuration in the body politic. Any reasonably energetic baby boomer “behaved far more deplorably than Trump”, women included. Did you? Did you really? Trump is, besides, actually a sexual coward. Ah, there you go. Amis is always begging for interruption and fending it off at the same time, busking his way to the best bit, fighting with shadows to snatch the prize.

Sometimes, the feints are just too large. In 2006 he goes to play poker in Las Vegas, and describes the city as “Un-Islamic”. Surely, you think, the word he is looking for is “anti-Puritan”, but the lack of historical or geographical connection does not stop Amis from dragging the wrong world religion through the fleshpots of the Strip. This is less than brilliant, for being specious, and Amis can be brilliant. He is a great believer in semantic rigour; every sentence snaps with an accuracy that is fresh and fierce.

When he is being dodgy – as he has every right to be – he switches tack on either side of a comma, and lets the cadence carry him through. Amis is always getting away with things and then saying, “Who, me?” The problem is surely about authority: this is is the kind of energy you get from people who have been bullied, or indeed from bullies themselves.

Why we love to hate Martin Amis

In 2010 he complains that a perfectly reasonable opinion about euthanasia results in his being dubbed controversial, then quotes the source of the difficulty, a “sardonic novel” in which he wrote of old people “stinking up the clinics”, and predicted “age wars and chronological cleansing”. Impossible to tell, in this sardonic mode, whether he is accusing society of prejudice against the old, or accusing old people of being unhygienic, or just flailing around. Whatever this is, it is not an argument for euthanasia. It is tedious to unpack all this except to point out that the word “stinking” is the trigger for the “controversy”, which is shorthand, these days, not for argument, but for shame unleashed, hence the general air of shouting and the feeling that we are no further on. Also, and by the way, Amis, in this passage, defaults to images of mass slaughter, the way you do.

Amis is fantastic company until he isn’t. The drop can sometimes be severe, though never so steep as with his friend Christopher Hitchens, another writer who makes the reader feel smart, energised, enlarged, or does until he says something stupid in a really clever way. Take the line that “Women aren’t funny,” by which Hitchens meant, not that women weren’t funny (of course not!), but something else altogether about fucking and showing off and women being enormously and fundamentally in charge of men, which is when you realise that you, the reader, are a woman (I never used to check) and that he is not talking to you, he is talking to someone (Hitchens, Amis himself) born in 1949.

For the most part, with Amis, it’s not so much the woman thing. He does mention and write sympathetically about women, though they tend to be either posh or porn stars (Jessica, Diana, Temptress, Chloe). He suffers from a hyperactive dystopian sense of what Ballard calls the “near after”. His anxieties place him on the edge of the future, which makes him interested in war (and not in a good way). So it is more the religion thing, added to the race thing, complicated by the need to go huge. Maybe you could call it the “rampant instinctivism” thing. Or, the prejudice thing.

Martin Amis rounds on Donald Trump and his 'army of neo-Nazis'

“Is Terrorism About Religion?”, asks one of the titles here, giving a whole new meaning to the word “about” (was the Omagh bomb about transubstantiation? Were the Shankill Butchers defending Luther’s 95 theses?) This essay might have been a proper look at the concept of jihad, but it isn’t that. It is an opinion about how hard it is to have a certain kind of opinion, these days. In it, Amis complains about the difficulties of maintaining a discourse that includes “less than reverent generalisations about non-white foreigners” (his italics). “Reverent” is good: there is no doubt that blasphemy is a great subject, but why do you need to make generalisations, and – hang on – who are these foreigner chaps?

Amis has lived in London, Uruguay and New York, which makes him a global citizen, or perhaps a “white foreigner” (or is the term for that an “expat”?). So maybe I am not like Amis, after all, because the first and last time I typed the word “foreigner”, my computer tells me, was in 2002. It is, perhaps, a uniquely British word. And then there’s “non-white”: where does that start – Naples? Really, no one living in Brooklyn talks about foreigners any more, let alone (wow) “non-white foreigners” and just, come on.

And you know I wish I was like Amis, I really do, because, damn, that fool can write, but I am not 20 years old any more, standing in a bookshop all afternoon, trying to afford a book I could not put down. I will, like many of his readers, grow old in a different direction. Still, this collection is full of treasures. And, if you want a good scrap, if you want to feel like Martin Amis while fighting with Martin Amis (which is possibly how he also spends his day), a couple of these pieces will keep you going for a long time.

The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump and Other Pieces, 1996-2016 is published by Jonathan Cape. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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