Review of The Really Funny Thing About Apathy

The Really Funny Thing About Apathy By Chelsea Martin
Reviewed by Laura Ellen Scot
Sunnyoutside, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-934513-24-8
Paperback, 68 pp., $13
The rhetoric swings from playful to paranoid in Chelsea Martin’s The Really Funny Thing About Apathy, a collection of four Zeno’s paradox-based stories that examine the illusion of progress and completion in common life. Despite the breezy implications of a too-precious title, the volume is tightly conceived and constructed, with Martin’s narrators dovetailing to create a continuous consciousness with a rabbit-like, joyless interiority. But they are often hilarious too, as in “At the End of This Story the Door Will Open and Under Eight Seconds Will Have Passed,” where the long list of possible visitors knocking at the door may include

Someone delivering flowers to me from a secret admirer.
A bad person.
A ghost.
Or a child selling something.

Appropriately, Martin’s main characters are permanently on the verge, and as they grapple with impossibility, telling becomes action—the action of coping. The matter of the personalized paradox is plainly and almost didactically expressed in the monologues of “At the End . . .” and “McDonald’s is Impossible.” “Moments Before the Future Begins to Approach” and “The Consumption” offer slightly more sentimentalized views, if only because the narrators interact with other characters. However, that interaction is itself a barrier formed by the artifice of social response, an idea best expressed in “The Consumption,” where the speaker, without shame, is constantly in the act of portraying herself. Desire is remotely possible, but there is no such thing as immediacy.

I am at my desk in my own apartment, consumed, of course, with thoughts of Reid. How could he leave me? As my roommate, Netta, walks in, I quickly calculate the exact temperament and sociability level I should have at this hour, of this day of the week, given the variables of recent history that might influence these levels.

The best piece in the collection is “Moments Before the Future Begins to Approach,” in which a younger perspective describes everything she can remember from the months preceding a scheduled meeting with her father. The result is an endless summer-style catalogue of experience made convincing by gaps that are just as important as the details.

One time we stole boxes of tile and laid it out on the driveway and sat on it for a little while and then left because we thought we might get caught. I can’t remember going to school during this time.

“McDonald’s is Impossible” has been referred to elsewhere as a poem, but it is more like a cadenced, long-form joke, obvious and annoying on its own.

And before you can order it, you have to decide what you want.
And before you can decide what you want, you have to read the menu.

But in the context of the collection, “McDonald’s . . .” finds more depth, especially as the adenoidal quality dissipates and the rhythm gains variety.

And before you can imagine that person stroking your neck, you have to imagine that person walking up to you looking determined.
And before you can imagine that person walking up to you looking determined, you have to choose who that person is.

Ultimately, The Really Funny Thing About Apathy is a sassy, indulgent little book with more head than heart, but that’s part of its charm. I’d even go so far as to suggest that the balance and arrangement of its stories is pleasantly obsessive. That said, the elegant production and price tag ($13) seem inappropriate for the concept. The number of pages and stories is not the issue, but variety is, and the on-message approach with its singular voice is precisely what makes this book seem skimpy compared with other print titles currently available.
Visit Chelsea Martin’s The Really Funny Thing About Apathy page here.
Visit sunnyoutside press on the web at
Laura Ellen Scott teaches fiction writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her short fiction has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top Fifty, Short Story Month, Eclectica Best Fiction, Gravity Dancers: More Fiction by Washington Area Women, and Barellhouse’s “Futures.” She was nominated twice for Dzanc’s Best of the Web and has made the StorySouth Million Writers notable stories list three times. Most of her published work is linked at her blog, Probably just a story. Laura is also the curator of VIPs on vsf, where editors and writers of very short fiction express very brief thoughts on form and craft.

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