By Lindsay Hunter

Featherproof Books
September 2010
340 pages


Reviewed by Nik Korpon


The baby was normal when it came out.

From this first sentence of "That Baby" you quickly figure out that things in this story—in all the stories in Lindsay Hunter’s collection Daddy’s—will end poorly. If this were a crime collection, I'd say that the lines between victim and perp are blurred. Sure, there are hundreds of tiny crimes—of the heart, the soul, the body, the mind—but it's not so much that anyone maliciously acts out against another person, more that the characters are lost inside themselves, fighting and scraping to find a way out.

In "The Fence," one of the most moving and layered stories in the collection, a woman can only find sexual pleasure by pressing the dog's electric collar against the fabric of her underwear and walking into the invisible fence. Though it seems that she and her libidinous husband have always had an active sex life, something has apparently changed, causing her to wonder "if my trips out there were the cause of the sudden urgency of our sex life, if he could sense that something was different, if the fence worked on him without him even knowing about it." Her urges get worse and worse until the husband declares that the dog, Marky, knows where it lives, rendering the fence useless. The narrator sneaks out of the house, husband deep in post-coital sleep, and walks up to the fence, finally working up the nerve to put the collar on bare flesh, and falls to the ground, overwhelmed by orgasm. This sequence sets up one of the most beautiful passages in the book:

On my back in the grass the night sky looked close enough to touch and then I had the strange feeling that I was floating, that I wasn't lying in the grass, that I was rushing up too quickly into the night and that I would break through the layers of the earth to freefall through space forever, It was the loneliest feeling and I left my place in the grass and went back to the house and up the stairs to our bed […] and when I lay down Tim turned over in sleep and molded his body to mine and Marky let out a long sigh. My underwear was wet and cold and I wished I had taken it off.

She finds liberation through something designed to contain, and she is lonelier during the most intimate contact than when there's no one around.

Daddy's is by no means a collection with some stellar stories and a bunch of filler in between. Each piece complements the previous, peeling away layers of the fragile and disturbing collective psyche. Someone described Chuck Palahniuk's work as people acting in extreme ways to try and find some connection in society, that the world is so barren they need these exaggerated actions to feel human. I'd propose almost the opposite for the people in Daddy's, that everything is tilted and over-saturated with static and these characters are just trying to make sense of what surrounds them, to find the equilibrium in their world. A boyfriend subjects his girlfriend to a number of worst-case scenarios in “Unpreparing.” It's like the Zombie Survival Guide but worse, because it's real. "My boyfriend and I have sex and when we're finished he holds me close and whispers into my ear, I just date-raped you. What do you do now?" She deals with it, almost agreeing with her mother, who says that it's just a phase. Later, a child who lives in the apartment above them finds the boyfriend at the bottom of the stairs, covered in blood. The paramedics soon realize it's actually ketchup; when she picks him up from the hospital lobby, he says, "I wanted you to find me […] I wanted to see what you would do if someone murdered me." The scenes get better—or worse, rather—but explaining would ruin the surprise. Is it misguided love? A friendly push at self-realization? True desire to have her ready for any emergency situation? I'm not sure. Should I be? Is it important to know?

In order to achieve this complexity of character, the author must be willing to portray the characters exactly as they are, no matter how intense or unsightly. Without Lindsay Hunter’s deft touch, these stories could be maudlin or melodramatic, or even worse: cautionary tales. For a perfect example, read "Love Song," high on my All-Time Top Five list for short stories. You could say it is heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, all the other -ing descriptions; they work, but they don't cover it. A birthday date, a father-daughter bonding moment, a survey of America and a constant two seconds away from falling from ecstasy into oblivion? We're getting there.

The horrifying beauty of these stories is the simplicity behind them. There are no convoluted descriptions, overwrought metaphors, or sentences so heavy with syntactical architecture that they collapse on themselves. These are pure character stories ("Wolf River" being a shining testament to the short form as a window into numerous lives and not just a self-contained piece of art.) The people are terribly real, living terribly real lives.

I think the teenage narrator of "Love Song" captures the feeling of the collection best. She's sitting in a Ruby Tuesday at the mall, drinking Coke, watching the saleswoman reject her drunken father after several minutes of trying to hock jewelry. Her father stumbles away, and she says, "Her hair was askew and I knew she was rattled, but she'd get over it, everyone gets over it, or they don't."