Mickey opens with a Matchbox Twenty lyric, from the song “3 AM.” If you know anything about that band’s debut album, which came out 20 years ago, you know that the song’s lyrics “It’s all gonna end and it might as well be my fault” aren’t actually about a breakup. They’re about lead singer Rob Thomas’ mother, who died of cancer. In a similar vein, Mickey ends up being a lot less about the protagonist’s breakup with Mickey and more about the universal feelings of frustration and loneliness that come with growing older while not necessarily maturing.
Presented with brevity through a series of short vignettes, author and illustrator Chelsea Martin’s fourth book finds the humor in minor tragedies. Like when Martin writes of the protagonist’s break up: “I value breaking up with someone because of the time it affords me to contemplate all the bad decisions I’ve made and exploit them for creative content.” It’s a silver lining of sorts, and it’s delivered completely deadpan, endearing the reader to the author’s way of defending her character with selfishness—a trait that otherwise might annoy, if not for the circumstances surrounding the young woman. And it’s not just the lingering breakup: There’s tension between both her and her roommate, Jessica, and the her and her mother.
Jessica is also an artist, but her determination is more pronounced, propelling her career faster and keeping her in enough cash to make her rent. Meanwhile, the oscillating depression and anxiety eventually land the main character on the couch, after losing her job, while a friend pays rent and takes over her room. But again, Martin turns these misfortunes into literary worth with musings:
“Don’t Hot Cheetos give you heartburn?” I asked the abyss.
“There’s no way to ever know,” the abyss answered. “You can’t afford that shit.”
But the abyss was wrong, because I had food stamps.
“You can’t use food stamps for Hot Cheetos,” the abyss said.
“Yeah you can,” I said.
But some entries—as Mickey often feels like a well-curated diary—are darker, like when Martin writes that her character is willing to have a manic episode just so she can make it to the shower, where she eventually decides to sit down and convince herself that a combination of water and soap raining down on her is sufficient. It’s pathetic in the most relatable way possible. And so is the estranged relationship the protagonist (she is never named) shares with her mother. At one point we see the mischievousness of the character—when she recalls her favorite memory as the time when she was 5 and tried to convince her mom that she was the one who smeared finger paint all over her bedroom windows—before it gives way to the real disconnect between her and her mother: “I think there can’t be anything more shameful and humiliating than being rejected by your own mom…”
The writing, though engaging, can come off as stunted as some of the relationships described in the book, but there’s something to admire in that earnestness, even if it results in the occasional lackluster passage such as the convoluted opening. Yet 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.
Correction: An earlier version mistakenly referred to Mickey as a memoir. It’s a work of fiction.