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Review: Normally Special by xTx

5 May

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The phrase “big things come in small packages,” is normally cliché, but it’s completely true when it comes to Normally Special by xTx. Her collection of flash fiction fits snugly into any back pocket, but carries the weight of a ten-ton anvil. The pieces cover a broad range of topics; father/daughter relationships, standard relationships, abuse/neglect, regret, and stalkers. The writing and content doesn’t allow you to put the book down. I was in awe and instantly fell in love.

xTx’s writing style is simple but breathtaking. She pours herself every word to get that fire between the lines. Every sentence breaks you down and leaves you begging for more. xTx has the ability to lead the reader to the edge of something resembling an emotional epiphany and turns them away, but at the last second the dagger comes out and gets you. That’s especially how I felt when I read “Father’s Day”:

“He’d always be the opposite of melted and I’d never felt like a princess. Even when he’d call me princess soft and soft, then louder and louder as if he were trying to make it true.”

Those two lines forced me to set the book down and stop everything for five minutes while I pulled myself back together. xTx paints these terrifying pictures that haunt the reader, that remind me of a car crash whose image you can’t shake. It’s terrible but you just cannot stop looking. She creates this game of tug-of-war over the emotions of the reader. There is no buffer. xTx has clearly picked each and every word meticulously to wring out as much emotion as possible, like in “The Mill Pond”:

“Mister Dean watched and Mister Dean made me say please two more times. Later on the only please I would say would be followed by the word, ‘stop.’”

xTx doesn’t mess around when  there’s a point that she feels needs to be made. There’s no concern for what the readers may think. She is bold and not afraid of anything. I loved that as a reader. I felt closer to the prose; it made me connect more with writing, and it left an impression on me that I still cannot shake off. I got a better sense of who xTx is not only as a writer, but also as a person. She pours herself on every page, and encourages the reader to drink all of that up. All of that combines for one intense and emotionally draining read.

One of my favorite aspects about xTx’s writing style is her ability to make certain off-the-wall subjects drenched with emotions, just like her story “Because I Am Not a Monster.” The story talks about how the narrator is dealing with the end of a relationship. She constantly references all of the terrible things she could do, but she always finishes them up with: “Do not worry, I will never find you. You are safe.” The rest of the story follows suit. Narrator saying she could drive, bike, or walk to the person she is addressing until the very end. That’s when things get turned upside down. It turns into this grand scene between the narrator and their ex to meet for the final “confrontation,” and the narrator believes that their ex is egging them on and wants the narrator to find them. She then ends it with the chilling lines:

“But you and I both know I wouldn’t. You are safe. Do not worry. I will never find you. But I could. If I really wanted to.”

The only real issue that I found was the discrepancy between the emotional barrage and the reader’s ability to recuperate in the stories themselves. Each piece is designed to demolish the reader, but there is no time to catch your breath. The pieces are relentless. I found it slightly unbearable after reading a few pieces back to back. It left me wanting a bit more of a gap between each stab of the dagger. I started to leave my guard up; losing some of the “oh snap” effect of the pieces.

Beyond that one thing, I loved absolutely every aspect of this collection. She has a mastery over flash fiction and the gift to rip out your heart and make you ask for seconds. xTx is an unstoppable force, and there seems to be no signs of her slowing any time soon. Her new book, Today I Am A Book, is available from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

Normally Special can be purchased here.

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Review: Everything Was Fine Until Whatever by Chelsea Martin

15 Jan

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Everything Was Fine Until Whatever is a whacky and bizarre collection of poetry/flash fiction, artwork, and footnotes by Chelsea Martin. Martin writes about: a baby’s first words, which were “Obviously imported from China,” acronyms, a to-do list, and the reasons Martin writes poetry. I am amazed by the amount of content that Martin is able to fit in only 111 pages. On top of that, she starts her collection off with a letter to the reader where she states that she wants the reader’s life to become consumed with the idea of her. She ends it with a bold, and I mean bold, statement:

“I want this love for me to be our only talent, and I want you to eventually realize that it isn’t even adequate, and that I really deserve better.”

That line got me fired up for this collection. Martin isn’t afraid to push the reader around, and that’s absolutely wonderful. If her writing is any indication of the direction where new literature is headed, I am beyond excited. With just that one line Martin gives the reader the lens to the rest of the pieces. It heightened the stakes of everything. There were times where I felt like I shouldn’t be reading this collection because of that letter. I felt guilty for reading and enjoying it. I felt guilty because with that letter Martin creates a very delicate relationship between herself and the reader. I felt bad for loving the poems that I did because I felt like it would never be enough for her. It reminded me of a dysfunctional relationship between a disappointed parent and their child. No matter what the child did, no matter how much love the child professes it would never be enough for the parent. Martin plays with this relationship throughout her collection.

Throughout the collection Martin sprinkles in these microscopic footnotes that are treats for the reader. They can range from extreme emotional vulnerability to something like this: “I accidentally shat on a person once. There I said it.” Not only did the absurd footnotes balance what was happening on the page, but they feel like secrets being whispered to the reader. It creates a stronger connection to the pieces because the reader feels as if they knew something that wasn’t completely out in the open for everyone to see. Sort of like a sneak peek for a movie you’re really excited for. That strange battle over the emotions of the reader sealed my love for this collection.

The titles of her pieces just get stuck in your head and refuse to leave. Not only are they a bit wacky and funny, but they provide an additional lens for the reader. Some of my favorite titles include: “I’m writing about love because no one else ever has and because I’m wearing jeans that made my butt look good,” “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I shouldn’t work in customer service,” and “Manipulation, Energy Drinks, and Time Travel.” Martin uses these titles to spark interest, but she also uses them as a way to mask a deeper takeaway through absurdity. In “Manipulation, Energy Drinks, and Time Travel,” the narrator talks about all of the things she is willing to do for someone:

“I’ll buy chocolate covered cherries and drop them into your mouth from skyscrapers as you unknowingly walk by. I’ll put my name on them somehow, so you know they’re from me. I’ll teach you Braille. Tongue Braille.”

That is a strong commitment to teach some person Tongue Braille. This piece talks about the hoops someone would go through for the person they loved. It was touching. The story goes on to talk about how the narrator would destroy other guys for the entertainment of the guy she’s talking about. She even makes the final leap and says:

“I’ll cancel Netflix, I don’t know why, but I swear to god I’ll do it.”

Martin does a fantastic job of masking these strong emotions of love behind absurd acts like canceling Netflix and dropping cherries from skyscrapers. That is one of the biggest strengths in her writing. She just takes these towering subjects like love, and breaks them down into these bite-sized chunks that she stitches into her own Frankenstein creature. Her voice is strong and sounds like someone in their early twenties going through life. To me her voice is becoming the brand for twenty something’s making their way through life. She is sporadic, heartfelt, sincere, and not afraid to spill herself for any and all to see. Something anyone struggling through their twenties would understand and connect with.

Everything Was Fine Until Whatever is Chelsea Martin’s debut collection. Through this collection she has asserted herself at the forefront of indie literature. She shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Her most recent collection Even Though I Don’t Miss You published through Short Flight/Long Drive can be purchased through Hobart.

Everything Was Fine Until Whatever can be purchased on Chelsea Martin’s website or the publishers’ Future Tense Books.