CBR #5 – So You Think You Can Creative?

Show Up, Look Good by Mark Wisniewski

I actually thought at first this was going to be another short story collection, but instead it was a full length novel.  It follows a girl from Kankakee in Illinois who is jilted by her fiancee who then decides on a whim to go to New York City.  And there she sort of Candides her way through several bizarre living arrangements and job situations.  From an old woman who rents her a room for a reasonable rate provided she agrees to shop for her and bathe her at night to a quirky couple who she meets after winning a ham for trying to do stupid human tricks for David Letterman, there’s a lot of oddness and intrigue.

But that kind of gets thrust aside by the writing style.  What makes his short stories so good make this less so.  It feels like a treatise making fun of anyone pursuing a creative art. It’s just openly mean-spirited, like people who want to be writers, or actors, or painters, or performers in any capacity are all phonies, psychotics, people who are deluding themselves.  And while there’s an element of truth to that, fuck you, man.  It’s like the book is this masturbatory exercise where he’s like “hahaha, you think you can do stuff, but you’re an idiot.”

And then the narrative itself kind of doles out in weird fits and starts. It’s less a cohesive progression and more someone who cobbled together interesting postcards and called it a collection.  The ultimate reveal at the end of the book comes not as a clever twist but a foul ball batted from the left field bleachers that pegs you in the side of the head.  You don’t know if anything you read was real or if it was all some fudged fever dream by the unreliable narrator.  It’s like she’s telling the story to someone back home and leaving out details and then admitting them later.  It might have worked, but coupled with the snickering behind the back pissing on of creative endeavors, it’s just sort of like, “Well, fuck you, too, kid.”

However, I still feel like his new novel Watch Me Go might work better, because it leans more towards the shady and sketchy trailer ensemble of his short stories.  So I’m still willing to give him another whack.


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