May 1, 2014
Caketrain Journal and Press
Megan Martin operates as a deft Daedalus in the pages of her new book Nevers. Filled with short fictions, Nevers is narrated by a clever and questioning I, where I is an astute observer and sometimes-perpetrator of Icarus-like behavior, which seems to plague her contemporary society. The noted hubris is so great and the sun so bright in these works that it burns the skin: “The fire-tornado burns off our clothes and our eyeballs and fries my wig and whirls off across the country.” (80)
This burning is a recurring motif, even one that connects humans and animals, for our interaction is myriad: we tend to them, we domesticate them, we eat them at barbeques on carefully shorn lawns, beside over-chlorinated pools: “Somewhere, I knew, B. was burning meat or watching a vulgar sport…” (45) The sport that is the most vulgar, here, might just be living itself.
These small stories tackle environmental concerns; issues of suburban waste/lands; relationships with lovers, spouses, mothers, fathers; and the spectacle of events, such as weddings, their extravagances somehow rendered the norm. Many tales, and the characters in Nevers, are bloody messes, but there is no real seeking for mending—there is only seeking—as solutions are not always a suture, but often a tearing apart.
The collection is self-conscious and self-reflexive in the most productive of ways, many of the stories feeling as if they are being written as they are read. The narrator has turned the anxiety of influence into a realization that the literary and artistic canons are exclusive clubs akin to the subdivisions she writes about and wails upon. The ambition to belong to a group for which it may not be desirable, nor even possible to belong is not a striving for the art making she seems interested in: “My strong beliefs about what is absolutely fucking not a piece of art prevent me from making anything a person might actually want to read.” (19)
This small collection is absolutely a book I want to read, reread, tell my friends about, and tell you to read. For the indubitable dubious nature of every scene, every relationship, is made clear with Martin’s clever wordplay and brilliant perceptions. Foxes, both natural and mechanical—all tricksters—inhabit these pages. They trip up the idyllic scene of green grass and sunshiny days of bikini-clad girls basking in the shiny light of the consumerist life—patio furniture, objects, and more objects: “The book B. gave me says I need to gather all the most mystical-seeming objects around me in a special, symmetrical formation and focus on them in a way that would lead to pages or love explosions or deep truth or to some other grand, vague mystery.” (41)
If Martin took the advice of her character B., then Nevers might possibly be that “other grand, vague mystery.” This book is a stellar accomplishment that makes me want to put on a Philip Treacy hat, a la Isabella Blow, and sit stubbornly on a large patch of green somewhere with high property values, and read this book aloud until security escorts me to the other side of the gate.
For it is the questioning in these stories that is most pungent: How do we decide not to take a path that seems societally dictated, expected, honored? Especially when a different path inspires dread, often in our selves, often in others. Martin’s straightforward prose and short, pointed dialogue belies stories which are by no means “straight” but are bent in the most beautiful of ways. In Martin’s first book, Sparrow & Other Eulogies (Gold Wake Press, 2011), she asks: If a story is unhinged, “is it still a story? … Too mythical to be ordered in a rational landscape…” Well, this collection is most certainly one of stories that are real and full, which depict the landscape of marriage and family, of writers and tenure-track professors, of women and real estate, and questions the very rationality of what many hold so dear:
What she means is: an empty and childless and husbandless life of putting words on paper is what I get for attending a liberal atheist-run institution and reading too much about the decrepit state of low-income vaginas worldwide which are eating her hard-earned tax dollars and jeopardizing her vacation fund. (32)
Martin is an exclamatory writer without dramatics. She is a dramatic writer without melos. She is a musical writer without being “cheesy.” She does cheese, but knows when to take things seriously. Her writing is equal parts drama, music, comedy, and popular culture. Blended with a talent for philosophical underpinnings (she coats the glass with a little Kant, and a splash of Derrida to ensure that it does go to your head), this collection is the perfect cocktail for an afternoon in the sun.
Martin is a chiaroscurist. In “Sick Black Jellies,” she invokes the darkness that pervades the haunting stories of Clarice Lispector, the Brazilian writer known for her novels and short stories of dark emotional interiors. The narrator in Lispector’s story, “Living Jelly,” builds walls and a ceiling with the dark stuff; Martin seems to use the dark matter to build entire sets of life-sized dioramas—sculpting and molding the stuff of dreams into dark comedy. She is, perhaps, using it to break a wall, raise a roof, to wax and feather us for a great escape, with the hope that we will not ascend too high, but knowing there is a good possibility we may all end up with singed wings, and drowning nonetheless.
Martin’s stories literarily make the best of bad situations. In the world of Nevers, it’s a fish eat fish world. This book is a most delightful invitation to dine and drink with her at the bottom of the ocean. Together, we can wait for the sun to plummet after us, to heat the ocean and all its grime to a more-than scalding temperature. Read Nevers, and join the world’s largest out-of-control hot tub party.
Mullin lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and dog. She studied at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets at Naropa University and received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska.