Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson. (Holt Paperbacks)
Chelsea Hodson’s new collection of essays, Tonight I’m Someone Else, is an exploration into desire and the fascination with the unknown. Hodson is taking us through a personal history where she looks for openings in life to insert herself, oftentimes to learn more about herself. Partly why this book is so compelling is because we are as clueless to Hodson’s past motivations as she is in the moment. The effect is that we feel as if we’re learning about her at the same rate that she is learning about herself. These essays inhabit their subject more fully than the majority of books I’ve read, and they allowed me to understand the inner workings of Chelsea Hodson and the way she operates in the world.
Some of the essays in Tonight I’m Someone Else are multi-layered. Hodson has grounded these essays in her own life but will take detours into much larger subject matters. Whether it’s Mars (which she worked on during NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander project) or Eugenie Clark’s 1953 memoir about her years as a fish scientist, Hodson is using them as ways to round out and contextualize her own experiences. Sure, she went to work where a land rover explored a different planet and sent data back for analysis, but most of her brain energy is spent trying to understand her relationship with a boy. It’s an intriguing way to write an essay and it offers multiple interpretations. It creates a larger scope for how she interacts with the world and gives us a better picture of how she processes her past.
Chelsea Hodson’s new collection of essays, Tonight I’m Someone Else, is an exploration into desire and the fascination with the unknown.
Hodson tends to take on a passive role in these essays. She goes to concerts and waits for a boy to talk to her, or she follows the whims of a friend she meets at camp. All the while, she is observing and calculating. She isn’t doing things she is uncomfortable with or doesn’t want to do. Simply because she is reactionary doesn’t mean she’s a pushover. Quite the opposite. She is gauging herself in relation to these different circumstances. She learns more about herself the further into other people’s lives she goes and the endurance it takes to adapt to them.
“Read Letters from a Red Planet” starts Tonight I’m Someone Else and she quotes an investigator on the Phoenix mission, “Somewhere in that vast region there are going to be places that are more habitable than others.” Not only was the Mars mission able to strengthen that one essay, it also speaks to a larger theme threaded throughout the book. Hodson enters into different relationships and jobs hoping for the best but being realistic enough to know the likelihood of the arrangement working out. It’s kind of a bummer because, by the end of the book, we’ve seen these situations that didn’t quite stick—whether it was modeling or pursuing journalism or even working customer service at American Apparel—and we are not able to see her in a place where she is at ease. I have to assume, since I’m holding this book in my hands, she made it to a point of contentment, but the lens has been turned away from the reader by that point, and that should be telling enough.