Nothing Special by Nicole Flattery – review

Published by Bloomsbury

Publication date – 2 March 2023

Source – review copy

New York City, 1966. Seventeen-year-old Mae lives in a run-down apartment with her alcoholic mother and her mother’s sometimes-boyfriend, Mikey. She is turned off by the petty girls at her high school, and the sleazy men she typically meets. When she drops out, she is presented with a job offer that will remake her world entirely: she is hired as a typist for the artist Andy Warhol.

Warhol is composing an unconventional novel by recording the conversations and experiences of his many famous and alluring friends. Tasked with transcribing these tapes alongside several other girls, Mae quickly befriends Shelley and the two of them embark on a surreal adventure at the fringes of the countercultural movement. Going to parties together, exploring their womanhood and sexuality, this should be the most enlivening experience of Mae’s life. But as she grows increasingly obsessed with the tapes and numb to her own reality, Mae must grapple with the thin line between art and voyeurism and determine how she can remain her own person as the tide of the sixties sweeps over her.

Nothing Special is a whip-smart coming-of-age story about friendship, independence and the construction of art and identity, bringing to life the experience of young women in this iconic and turbulent moment.

1966 in New York. Mae is seventeen, living at home with her alcoholic mother and Mikey, the man who would be her mum’s boyfriend if she let him. She has few friends at school and one slip loses any remaining. She drops out of school when she finds a job typing for Andy Warhol.

Mae is set on a self destructive path, caught up in a cycle of trying to escape her mother without realising she is emulating some of her mother’s traits. She is soon caught up in the world of The Factory, though she never names it as that. A loner at school, she maintains that distance at work, merely taking in the hangers on and famous names that visit the loft where she works. She is however drawn to Shelley, a fellow typist and someone who seems oblivious to the scenes around her.  The pair become unlikely friends and Mae is aware that Shelley knows far more about her then she knows about Shelley.

There is a sense of detachment, a surreal air to the story. This makes sense as Mae is detached from the world, is drifting, unaware of what she wants but knowing what she doesn’t want. She becomes almost obsessed with the tapes she is transcribing, has an attachment she doesn’t realise she has forged until she is reminded that the story she is typing isn’t one she has written and her name won’t be on the front cover. She is a product of her time and her environment, stuck between trying to escape her home life and facing the new found freedoms of the swinging 60s.

Warhol himself is barely mentioned, and features in only a few scenes. He is a wisp, almost a figment of the imagination. A seemingly pre-possessing man, he holds court over the hangers-on and visitors to the loft. Indeed his sway affects Mae, even though she would deny it if asked. Her life becomes centred on the loft, on the people in the room and the people she listens to every day. Her world becomes mixed with theirs, though always adjacent and never fully integrated.

I wasn’t really aware of The Factory or the history of the people who surrounded Warhol, or indeed the man himself. Of course I knew of him, of his most famous works but there the knowledge ended. I found myself looking up him and the characters mentioned, to find out more.

I wasn’t perhaps as connected to the book as I would have liked but I think that may have been part of the intention. Mae after all is a loner who perhaps wants to be included more. Hers is a life that is not enviable or glamorous and the life of The Factory is shown to be the thing that doesn’t provide Mae with those things.

An interesting read, short, at 230 pages and to the point.

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link and I may make a small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy Nothing Special from your local independent bookshop).

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