For as long as I’ve had this blog, I’ve been privy to daily moments of Zen courtesy of Molly Young, a Manhattan-based writer and critic better known in the world of Tumblr as Magic Molly. Her posts are short, punchy, and full of unexpected pith and insight; they’re finely detailed slices of life, or else wry observational comedy with the punchlines removed; in short, they’re wise—which is a strange attribute indeed to ascribe to someone in their early 20s.
Self-published and -released through her blog, and soon to be available at finer Urban Outfitters locations everywhere, Troubleshooting is a collection of all-new material that’s very much in the spirit of Young’s online writing. None of these pieces are longer than a page, and none overstay their welcome. They’re complemented by collages of visual ephemera—from Bugs Bunny to cannon-blasts of polygons—assembled by Chris Luxton.
A typical piece is something like “As long as you can learn from your mistakes,” which calmly parses a dilemma that will sound familiar to roughly everyone: acting honestly versus acting strategically. This is a decision, Young writes, that grows more complex over time. It’s easiest for children, because they aren’t yet aware that the second option exists; they are either honest or dishonest. “When you grow into an adolescent,” however, “the choices blossom.”
Suddenly you’re able to take into account other people’s expectations, both in the short and long term. Now you can wager certain things that aren’t necessarily true—self-deprecation via a joke, say, or claiming to like a movie that you really don’t—in the hopes of seeing rewards later on. You spend all your time sowing seeds. Spontaneity wavers. Young doesn’t put it in these terms, but this is how politicians speak all the time.
“As long as…” is a nice comment on how our ever-networking brains function, and at the same time isn’t chirpy enough to qualify as brain candy. Brain granola, maybe. Yet the piece does manage to go out on an upbeat note: “Do not panic, however. Old age arrives more quickly than one thinks, and with it a return to honesty.”
Assuming that you’re willing to accept a 23-year-old’s explanation of what old age feels like, it’s a winner.
The rest of Troubleshooting keeps a similar pace. Some of the pieces veer more towards short fiction, others to what I might be forced, gun to my head, to call “inspirational” or “self-help”. (One benefit to self-publishing, I suppose, is that no Chapters employees will suffer aneurysms while trying to categorize it.) What ultimately keeps the book hanging together is Young’s sweet, sometimes opaque, but always inviting perspective—it’s simply fun to see what such a mind comes up with when left to its own devices.
And when the stories call for it, Young is also a wonderful stylist. A solitary middle-aged man has “the mien, perhaps, of someone unexpectant… He does not look like someone who is about to receive a phone call.”
A tiled floor is “ordered without being boring.”
A particularly beautiful girl “has plump hands and a turned-up nose and a face with no angles, just slopes.”
I could read writing like this all day long—even if the installments started to run for more than a page apiece.
Self-published, 80 pp, $16, paperbackFeb 10, 2010