Lindsay Hunter’s Daddy’s (Featherproof, 210 pages) is a fairly disturbing look at life in a southern rural area, though I think the book probably is meant to depict many rural areas. What the work is able to do, however, is entertain on more than one level through her craftsmanship in voice. The cold, matter-of-factness with which she writes is met in a simultaneous observational sentimentality, which works to then give us an inner clock-working machine we can hear clicking. Have you ever known a girl who has a deadpan sense of humor and this sort of distant manner yet simultaneously is obviously deep in existential thought? That’s what we’re working with here.
While the author risks coming across as calculated, the woven language reads at times closer to a long thought prose poem, and it works. At times it reads like a hyperactive child is sitting across a desk talking. It’s eerie; it’s creepy; it’s honest and entirely sensical given the subject matter. There are different versions of fathers, different versions of children — some being subjected to entirely grotesque subject matter way, way too early — different versions of home.
“We turned into Gator’s. Daddy’s favorite establishment, and as we parked he belched my name, drawing it out…Inside, the music was loud and Daddy did a little soft shoe up to the hostess. Darlin’, we have a reservation, he said, under Birthday Girlie. She walked us over to a small table with two stools…Daddy ordered a double whiskey and two Cokes…The flatscreen on the wall behind him was playing the Home Shopping Network. A woman with a helmet of hair gritted a smile and held a doll toward the camera like it was radioactive. The word BEAUTIFUL was stamped across the screen in urgent block letter, flashing like a neon sign on its way to burning out.”
In addition to the gorgeously written prose, the layout of the work itself is of note. The text is printed sideways and reads more like, forgive me, “an open book,” so to speak. Which makes perfect sense given the canon Hunter has created in her subject matter. Interestingly interwoven are the dichotomies between friendship and familial activity. We are given varying situations of children behaving badly, forcing one another into fairly demeaning situations and our narrator crafts each version in a way which is so brutal, it forces us to pass judgement. We want our narrators, our characters and ourselves to get up, get out, and somehow find new worlds. The book made me uncomfortable. That isn’t a bad thing.
–Nicolle Elizabeth, author of Read This Sh*t Out Loud (forthcoming).
“In the morning our mamas would pick us up while Tina’s mama flipped pancakes to mask the scent of barf and smoke. Our mamas’d drag us to the grocery store, ask what we wanted: Cream of? Instant? 2-minute? Chicken? Meatloaf. Are we out of? Do you need? Ketchup. Mayonnaise. Lightbulbs? Tampons? Kibble? You father. Your brother. Go and get. Orange? Cherry? Lime? Are you listening? Do you hear me? Look at me. But all that was later. Ingalls came out of Tina’s mama’s room in a long t-shirt and rummaged till he found some Twinkies, and then he went back in. The fan whirred and chilled the room. Our mouths tasted like other mouths. We longed for water. The highway inhaled, exhaled. Later we’d tell about how bored we were and what a redneck Tina’s mama was. We wouldn’t mention how glamorous it felt to say we were bored, and how in the dark we got chill bumps up and down our arms at the idea that this was life, and life smelled like peach carpet spray and cinnamon chewing gum and cheap-flavored wine, all backwashed up.”