Stephen-Paul Martin’s TwentyTwenty reminds us that in his finest moments, he’s the king of writing degree zero, the American Albert Camus, if Camus had a sense of humor. “He stares at the seemingly random combination of numbers and letters, then shrugs and clicks. There’s a flash on his screen, a clip of someone jerking off in a bedroom. Clark thinks it might be a picture of himself right before the phone rang, but the image is gone before he can see it clearly.” His straightforward yet unaccountably insane prose is anomie trapped in a bounce house. His seemingly relaxed narrative is “a leash that can be jerked at any moment,” as his hapless protagonists, in stories like “Almost Famous” and “Just Another Emergency” obsess over people’s fake smiles, mermaids who appear out of nowhere, and the political soul destroyers who mask their evil intentions with bland and obvious gestures in a nation soothed to boredom by the grotesquerie of the commonplace.
On Stephen-Paul Martin
Stephen-Paul Martin is North America’s foremost master of the short story. His fiction probes center after elusive center, until we see that it’s not just the subject that’s changing, but also our sense of what it means for a story to have a subject.
Vernon Frazer, on Changing the Subject
Stephen-Paul Martin has got to be one of the finest and most interesting short fiction writers America has produced within the last few decades. He has been publishing in various modes of language-creation for years, and is a singular spark among conventional and lightless writing. Martin’s stories are hilarious, philosophically rich, absorbing, and just plain fun. A selected stories volume from him would be an absolute killer. He is at the forefront of American storytellers.
Jefferson Hanson, Rain Taxi
Exceedingly clever and mesmerizing, Stephen-Paul Martin proves himself a master of both his own invented form and the flawless style with which he crafts it. How marvelous to see the story so reinvented and reinvigorated!
A.D. Jameson, review of Changing the Subject in The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Stephen-Paul Martin’s stories are as ‘true’ as they are wildly comic and horrifying. They begin with ordinary situations and turn the natural on its head. Martin’s seeming cool is actually a carefully channeled passion: a profoundly political writer, he plays on myth, legend, press release, and earlier fiction to show us what it is we really are.
Marjorie Perloff, on Not Quite Fiction
Martin’s stories begin in safe, well-lighted rooms but by the end we find ourselves in strange darkened corridors. Such is the power of imagination on display in these texts that even for readers trained to expect the unexpected Martin’s writing still manages to move in consistently surprising directions. Martin’s stories wrench, or in some cases, completelu upend, the form of the short story.
Matthew Kirkpatrick, The American Book Review
Martin’s writing weaves a tight narrative with no room for error or escape. It’s quick. It’s sharp. It doesn’t wait for you to catch up. It’s dizzying with the constriction of air, and much like in erotic asphyxiation, you’re turned on and want more. Moving from microcosm to macrocosm, Martin’s prose questions the validity of storytelling.
Adrian Belmes, Free-Form Review
What an astonishing book! Beautiful, original, with delicious surprises lurking at the heart of sentences.
Eugene Lim, on The Possibility of Music, in Goodreads
The stories in Changing the Subject ask of the reader a commitment to uncertainty, an emphatic intelligence. They are as entertaining as they are gruelling, lifting shifting simulacra to the operational philsophies of junk food, animal rights, mass media, terrorism, and academia, all the while testing the vaulting of the language itself for unexpected seams. Though the stories make use of syntactical or symbolic repetitions, they are also powerfully digressive, hallucinatory. This book is up to more than literary parlor tricks. Its phenomenological exploits assemble a social commentary that eschews logical argument. It culls insight from annihilation; anti-authoritarian to the hilt and then some, its stories are strong enough to defy themselves. They ply the absurdity of the absurd. Saying no and saying it again, inviting us to reconsider history and possibility from a deep-zero perspective, from the blind eye of catastrophe.
Peter Moysaenko, Bomb
Marked by subversive wit and philosophical insight, Martin’s prose is ultimately musical in construction, like a fugue for the ruin of time.
Andrew Joron, on Changing the Subject
It’s fascinating to see how Stephen-Paul Martin moves from one fictional riff to another, playing fiction off history and history off fiction in one humorous, absurd, and serious tale after another. This is an ambitious and original effort.
Kirkus review of The Ace of Lightning
Entering Stephen-Paul Martin’s witty contemporary monologues, the reader unravels great questions: does a person anticipate his or her own actiuons, as one word in a sentence anticipates the next? Or is an event an explosion of contingencies that arrive fully integrated?
Fanny Howe, on The Possibility of Music
Stephen-Paul Martin writes of a world where speculation and emotion, memory and duration, violence and tenderness fuse and split apart in the time it takes for a smile to change into a look of frozen terror. With only the reassurance of laughter to guide you, read Martin’s fiction or risk discovering that a literary revolution is taking place, no one has told you, and your mind is the central character.
Nick Piombino, on Fear & Philosophy
Stephen-Paul Martin’s stories reproduce the velocity with which we’re hurtled through mystified public/private spaces, blindsided by the bizarre surplus of the marketed reality that bombards us; at the same time, the incongruous elements are turned into shock effects that interfere with the conventionally mediated flow of things, opening the high-speed narrative space to a critical meditation on repressed domains of culture and politics. Martin’s work is a stunning invention of a hybrid genre capable of making our postmodern moment available to the senses and intelligence: an art that combines the pleasures of storytelling and the deconstructive Illuminatiuons of discourse theory in a continuously surprising virtuoso performance.
Marc Kaminsky, on The Gothic Twilight
Stephen-Paul Martin has published many books of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. His most recent collections of fiction are The Ace of Lightning (FC2, 2017) and Changing the Subject (Ellipsis Pres, 2010). His 1992 book of stories, The Gothic Twilight, was nominated for the National Critics Circle Book Award. He is the co-director of San Diego State University's MFA program.