Michael Martone, by Michael Martone, continues the author's giddy exploration of the parts of books nobody ever reads. Michael Martone is its own appendix, comprising fifty "contributors notes," each of which identifies in exorbitant biographical detail the author of the other forty-nine. Full of fanciful anecdotes and preposterous reminiscences, Martone's self-inventions include the multiple deaths of himself and all his family members, his Kafkaesque rebirth as a giant insect, and his stints as circus performer, assembly-line worker, photographer, and movie extra.
Expect no autobiographical consistency here. A note revealing Martone's mother as the ghost-writer of all his books precedes the note beginning, "Michael Martone, an orphan...." We learn of Martone's university career and sketchy formal education, his misguided caretaking of his teacher John Barth's lawn, and his impersonation of a poor African republic in political science class, where Martone's population is allowed to starve as his more fortunate fellow republics fight over development and natural resource trading-cards.
The author of Michael Martone, whose other names include Missy, Dolly, Peanut, Bug, Gigi-tone, Tony's boy, Patty's boy, Junior's, Mickey, Monk, Mr. Martone, and "the contributor named in this note," proves as Protean as fiction itself, continuously transforming the past with every new attribution but never identifying himself by name. It is this missing personage who, from first note to last, constitutes the unformed subject of Michael Martone.
The Litblog Co-op's Summer 2006 READ THIS! Choice
"He works his mischief well, facetiously and in dead earnest." —IndyStar.com
"This has to be one of 2005's best, most interesting and hilarious collections of short stories, not only because of its bizarre, decontructionist format, but--for true lovers of literary fiction--its unique narrative as well." —Bookreporter.com
"It's very different, and it's clever, and it has a zesty swing to it that will make it a welcome acquisition." —The Compulsive Reader
"Michael Martone's Michael Martone squares the facts about his life with the stories about his life. I found I couldn't put the book down, and I never wanted it to end." —Michael Martone
"You might expect a whole collection of contributor's notes (well, okay, forty-two "Contributor's Notes," one "Vita," one "Acknowledgement," and one "About the Author") to be a great experiment in autobiography, one that allows a writer forty-five different points of entry into his own life story--forty-five ways of looking at this particular blackbird. The voyeur in me was looking forward to all that self-revelation, but my hopes were quickly recalibrated as I read the opening "Contributor's Note," which describes Matone's lifelong "collaboration" with his mother who, according to this note, not only wrote his school papers and graduate thesis, but continues to write his fiction, sending it to Martone via microcassette recordings. Hmm. Presumably there's a core of psychological truth there--what a lovely acknowledgement of the extent of a parent's influence on one's art--but clearly not a literal one. Several notes later, we're told that Martone's mother died shortly after his birth, of complications resulting from a difficult pregnancy. What we have here, then, are short fictions, perhaps occasionally autobiographical, about a series of characters named Michael Martone. I do believe that Martone (the author) was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as asserted by all of the notes except one, which claims he was born in Story County-ha!-Iowa. I would love to believe that Martone (the author) once donned a millipede suit and served as a mascot for Fort Wayne's millennium festivities, as we're told in the note that begins on page 161, but it doesn't matter that I can't; his riff on Kafka made my day.
Why write an entire collection this way? Like a thought experiment in a philosophy class, this book describes forty-five alternate worlds, each closely resembling our own, inhabited by forty-five alternate Michael Martones. The final "Contributor's Note" in the volume says Martone often finds the contributors' notes to be the most interesting part of a magazine: "In a way it is like a party, Martone thinks, and when he revieves his contributor's copy with his contribution and his contributor's note in its pages, Martone most often proceeds directly to the contributors' notes section to see who is attending this affair." Michael Martone,then, is the party Martone has thrown for all his possible selves. And what self-respecting voyeur would miss that?"