All About My Mother: A Double Dealer Notes His Contributors


Michael Martone was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was taught by his mother that all the best stories have him as the hero. Martone’s mother, a high school teacher, also had at least one more lesson: that every story, no matter how boring, gets better with each retelling. So Martone, now a professor himself, constructed a perpetual stutter of a novel: 45 hyper-revisionary variations on his own contributor’s note, each beginning with the sentence “Michael Martone was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana.”

Martone versus Martone, in every round, starts the same way, and ends with one of two quickly predictable conclusions. An ordinary Midwestern childhood, with trips to the library and catch in a parking lot, gets refracted by a post-Lacanian looking glass and breaks down as the one and only Martone sustains the same wound many times (the death of his mother happens often) or a bunch of Martones show up and start taking pictures of each other (“Martone’s father took a snapshot of his son and the other Michael Martone while that Michael Martone took a picture of Martone’s father taking a picture of the two Michael Martones”). By note 14 or so, the sucker punch of the self-hating author has gotten awfully dull to watch, especially when we know he’s got another 30 rounds in him.

Michael Martone was educated at Johns Hopkins University, where John Barth told him his work looked less like stories than “fictions”: no climax, no denouement, just a series of expanding meanderings. (Sent up a garden path, they might look more like Borges’s Ficciones.) Just when Martone looks like he’s pulled Martone together—killing off his mother, for example, and feeling more than curious about it—that’s when he multiplies or divides by the faction, or guise, of his experimental escapism. It’s too bad, because a lot of the notes look like prefaces to a good story. If only we could get to know him better—Michael Martone by Michael Martone!

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