Lindsay Hunter - An exploration not of the human heart but of the spine; mixing sex, violence and love into a harrowing, head-spinning read

Lindsay Hunter, Daddy's, Featherproof, 2010.

"You ever fed yourself something bad? Like a candied rattlesnake, or a couple fingers of antifreeze? Nope? You seen what it done to other people? Like while they’re flopping around on the floor you’re thinking about how they’re fighting to live. Like while they’re dying they never looked so alive? That’s what Daddy’s is like… Lindsay Hunter is as sweet as pie, but she’s got one mean, dirty mouth… Lindsay Hunter scares people. Over the course of a young career as one of the most revered short-short fiction writers, and one of the most sought-after public readers, Hunter has freaked out audiences and readers with gorgeous stories about ugly truths. Founder of the acclaimed Quickies! Reading Series, at the Innertown Pub, she’s arguably the most talked-about writer in Chicago without even having a book on the shelves yet.
Featherproof is honored to change all that, with the release of Daddy’s. In Daddy’s, Hunter tells stories like no one else in ways no one else can: A woman struggles to survive her boyfriend’s terror preparations. A wife finds the key to her sex life lies in her dog’s electric collar. A man is haunted by a dream, recalling a long-forgotten truth. This is the stuff of Gaitskill and Homes, the kind of stories played out in backyards and basements, where the neighbors can’t see. A rising star of a literary form whose popularity has recently exploded online. Hunter writes bold, beautiful stories that excise the sentimental from heartache. In this collection of slim southern gothics, she offers an exploration not of the human heart but of the spine; mixing sex, violence and love into a harrowing, head-spinning read.
The stories are visually imagined as the sort of dirty hooks you might find in the bottom of an old tackle box. The book opens sideways, as a tackle box would, revealing page after page of forgotten horrors rotting amongst the stories themselves. It’s a visual feast meant to lure the unwary.“ - Linas Jasikevicius

“Each tiny, diamond story—precise, comic, poised at the edge of surreal—contains one brutal life force tearing itself off the page. You can hold Daddy’s in your hands and feel it breathing.” —Deb Olin Unferth

“In Daddy’s, babies mean blood and nipples are like “lit match heads.” Lindsay Hunter transgresses where others fear to tread.” —Terese Svoboda

“Lindsay Hunter won’t be caught lie-telling in the name of nice. The miniature stories in Daddy’s are fierce and unapologetic. When the We’s she voices say the axblade was bloody with dirt, what they mean is the neighbor’s swingset creaked and moaned next door and we heard 
a child’s voice say Never ever. When I’m looking again for my next undoing, I’ll crack open Daddy’s, and get the true news they tell us we’d be better off not hearing.” 
 —Kyle Minor

“If Help is the alpha of Southern Lit, Daddy's is the omega. A brilliant little book of 24 little stories, mostly funny, sexy, and low rent. Kinky enough to impress your weirdest friends and your mother too.” —Paul at Prairie Lights Bookstore

“I didn’t meet Lindsay Hunter; so much as her fiction ran me over. ” —Three Guys One Book

"Lindsay Hunter makes drunk teenagers dry-humping in Cheeto dust compelling literary fare. Daddy's, her debut collection of short shorts, follows a trove of confused young people through frightening parking lots and crappy apartments. Those who miss explicit sex in contemporary literature, take heart: Hunter writes about it, and frequently.
"The Fence" concerns a woman who masturbates compulsively with an electric dog collar; "Sex Armageddon" offers a horny homeless couple, M&M's, and a Bic lighter. Hunter's approach to sex channels both Mary Gaitskill and John Waters: it's desperate, depraved, and thrillingly transgressive.
I'd be remiss not to mention Daddy's sexy packaging. The book resembles a tackle box: bound at the top and illustrated throughout with corroded-looking fishing-themed photographs. Neat!" - Eugenia Williamson

„Writing in an Internet journal—one wherein, last month, I considered the possibilities of new literature for the still-new medium, rich with potential, of the Internet—it is nice to have an opportunity to fervently defend the book as artifact, a physical thing with a weight and a smell and a presence—both material and beyond material, an aura—in a given room. In an age of e-books and digital readers, Lindsay Hunter’s debut story collection, Daddy’s, exemplifies one strong future for print literature, combining as it does the most sparklingly polished aspects of performance with the most creative and enticing aspects of book-as-object. There is a fetishistic appreciation for the possibilities of print in this beautifully produced little collection from the Chicago press featherproof. The book looks, from the outside, like a miniature tackle box and opens to reveal exquisite short pieces presented in sections with moody monochrome photographs embedded alongside the text.
Let me be clear: You should buy a copy of Daddy’s immediately and spend some time in its world…
“I wrote my sister this note about all the things I hate,” one narrator announces. “Gorgons, it said. And how people got nutville any time the moon throws a shape. Nasty ass Nilla Wafers. The smell of crotch, which only seems to come wafting out from my sister’s room.” The mastery of language here, the warped vernacular, along the scatological humor and, perhaps above all, a kind of innocence half-masked by precocity and rage—these are the hallmarks of Hunter’s art. And this art has surely been sharpened by the demands of performance; the inessential has been excised, the idiosyncrasies of voice and the music of phrasing have been heightened. There is also an expert sense of timing, comic or otherwise, and of tone. “The only other customer in the restaurant got up,” one story says, “stomping his feet like his legs had been asleep,” which phrase says more about the moment than many writers could convey with a full half page. In another story, this observation of presence in the midst of emptiness is rendered in the voice of a mother who can say, of one lost child, “I knew Letitia was dead inside me for days before she was born, but I let her stay inside. That was one of the happiest times in my life, me and the baby sharing a death.”
The characters in Daddy’s do not lead enviable lives. In short, they have problems, but they live amidst such mental and material clutter that even the simplest problem becomes extravagantly elaborate. Even seemingly empty space reads like a microcosm of decay, desire, and ruin. “Tiny shrines of catshit and dryer lint and wrappers for condoms candy beer-bottles toilet paper lipstick-tubes and various electronics,” cover one section of one surface in this book. The eerie accompanying photographs likewise collect physical detritus and, by isolating individual pieces—the grub-like melted cigarette lighter, for instance—offer these things up in further “tiny shrines,” banality acquiring an ambiguous significance. Things are everywhere here, and they can, quick as a drop, acquire too much meaning. Consider the woman who says, of her lover’s snacking, “The bit of M&M is gone from his lip and I wonder if it’s somewhere in my pubic hair.” Or the man, who, remembering his wife, thinks how she “often had lipstick in her teeth, how it made her look like she’d just bitten into something alive, something that bled.” Objects creep in and define our troubles just as objects offer us our only, brief, escapes:
'In the bathroom he stared at himself in the mirror. He imagined that his body was an elaborate empty coffin. Here lies Nothing. Here lies No One. He could smell the bagel burning in the toaster, heard his girlfriend hiss Shit. He masturbated with her mint green loofah and appletini body wash, crouching over the toilet so that when he came there’d be nothing to clean up, no trace of anything ever happening.'
Hunter’s world is riddled with invisible fences and full of casual, passing considerations of the possibility of suicide. People innovate, sexually, in preposterous and utterly believable, heartbreaking ways. But people also love, strangely enough, whether this love is between a mother and her freak baby smearing fistfuls of feces into the sheets or between, as it often is, siblings, a relationship Hunter treats as always at once complexly tangled yet also simple and dependable as a blade.
I haven’t yet mentioned that the book is dedicated to the Florida town where Hunter grew up, and dedicated, to be more precise, to the place in those precise years. As much as there is a savor of southern gothic in these tales, there is an equal pulse of nostalgia just beneath the surface. People get abused in these stories, taken advantage of, hospitalized. People seem to give up, or remain trapped in circumstances, or relish memories of temporarily shared death. Yet the book itself is characterized by a buoyancy, a hope, even in the face of repeated narrative disappointments. This hope is in the writing, carried by the rhythm and at times tremendous strength of it, by the singularity of the images and the voices. Thus, while reader won’t like want to switch lives with any of the sad denizens of Daddy’s, they will return again and again to scenes here, because in Hunter’s hands even scenes of failure convey a crackle of possibility, and what, to a given character, may well be the end of the line, becomes, for the reader, an entrance into awe and wonder.
'He kept driving. Veered toward the Gulf and rented a room a block from the beach. Kept his shoes on as he waded into the water for fear of jellyfish. It felt natural to be pulled by the tide, to be tempted to let it take him, and then for the tide to finally let go and push the other way. He stood like that for some time, dipping in his fingertips at one point and tasting the salt. He saw a shark’s fin on the horizon and it wasn’t until later that he realized it was probably just a sailboat.“ - Spencer Dew

"Lindsay Hunter's Daddy's is a powerful debut collection of short fiction, filled with raw, transgressive stories, emotionally empty characters, and some really freaky sex. It's not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned -- or intrigued!
First, let's talk about the sex. There's a lot of it. Whether it's strange or brutal or inexplicably involves Fritos and a Bic pen, sex functions mostly as a way for Hunter's otherwise numb characters to induce a feeling, any feeling -- be it pleasure, pain, or a (false) sense of fulfillment or connection. The sex is simultaneously erotic, repugnant, and sad, and rendered in an assured writing style that runs the gamut from low-down to lofty.
In "The Fence," the female narrator, an unnamed stay-at-home wife, masturbates using the electric fence that has been newly installed for the dog. She holds the dog collar to herself and delivers a jolt that is "Like a million ants biting. Like teeth. Like the G-spot exists. Like a tiny knife, a precise pinch. Like fireworks." The narrator's dense but adoring husband doesn't know about her habit, but he intuits her increased sexual energy, interpreting it as a sign of their mutual marital satisfaction. "God, I love you. I really do. I'm positively joyful," he says. But she doesn't share his feelings. Instead, she says, "I try and think of my husband when I go to the fence, but he becomes a distraction, and sometimes when I conjure him up I can't go through with it, and my trip is ruined." Like many of the stories in this collection, "The Fence" explodes the false promise that sex equals intimacy.
Another one of my favorites is "Loofah," about a man of undetermined sexual orientation who wakes up from a dream that reminds him of a humiliating attempt at gay sex, and ends up masturbating with his girlfriend's loofah and appletini-scented body wash, "crouching over the toilet so that when he came there'd be nothing to clean up, no trace of anything ever happening." Here, Hunter's incorporation of this solo sex works perfectly to showcase her character's loneliness, self-loathing, and a discomfort regarding his homosexual desire that is so profound, he needs to literally rub it out of his system.
As you may have guessed, this book contains fairly shocking material, which brings me to my one big complaint: there's so much shocking material, it eventually ceases to shock (a la the law of diminishing returns). And when it ceases to shock, it calls attention to itself as gimmicky, practically shouting off the page: "Yoo-hoo, I'm trying to shock you!" For instance, "Kid" is a nasty, brutish story about a 15-year-old who goes to 7-Eleven to buy dinner and ends up delivering a baby. The action of the story is interspersed all the while with the Kid's inner monologue, which goes a little something like this: "Vagina VAGINA menstrual pussy fucky times" and "I put my hand inside a pregnant lady's giner, I'm a golldang hero." While I like subversive writing and don't mind graphic sexual language, I had to look hard to see "Kid" as anything other than shocking for the sake of shocking. Sure, the story opens with the Kid reading his religious devotional, which could be taken as a nice bit of commentary on the potentially rotten core of an outwardly religious person... but, honestly, I left the story thinking his dad's hands smell like balls??
Overall, I had a visceral and mixed reaction to Daddy's. Hunter's prose is fantastic; it's poetic and filled with vividly rendered physicality. And though some stories made me cringe, others hooked me immediately and impressed me with their spot-on displays of deep emptiness. I can't give this collection an unequivocal thumbs up, but it's definitely worth reading. Just don't do what I did, which was to take this book to a coffee shop with the intention of reading for a couple hours. It's not that kind of book. I recommend that you pick it up, read a few stories, and put it down if or when you start to get numb. When you pick it up later, with fresh eyes, you'll be newly wowed." - Sheila Ashdown

"Lindsay, how annoyed is your father that you named your book Daddy’s?
- Well, smartypants, the truth is that Daddy’s isn’t named after or about my dad, nor is it homage to him; however this didn’t stop him from informing me that I needed to make sure to tell everyone that he’s “the one true Daddy.” So I think he’s secretly titillated, maybe even proud, at the thought of Daddy’s being a thinly veiled tell-all about my childhood or my relationship with him. He hasn’t read the book; once he does he may regret that statement, after he stops barf-weeping that is.
Why the f did you name it Daddy’s then?
- From the beginning, featherproof and I were looking at the book as an object, a commodity, and we were really concerned with packaging—we wanted the book to be about more than just the stories, like the book’s packaging could tell a story just as much as the stories inside it. And there are a number of weird fathers in the book, and Zach Dodson and I were kind of spitballing titles back and forth, and one of us said “Daddies?” and then we looked at each other and said No, Daddy’s; that possessive apostrophe did a lot of work—it claimed and announced and offered, all at once.
So then the book is Daddy’s tackle box?
- Right. And that tackle box is full up with Daddy’s stuff—there are hooks and there are “hooks,” know what I’m saying?
I’m kind of embarrassed for you. Nonetheless, what kinds of “hooks” can readers expect to encounter in Daddy’s?
- I think there’s something for everyone. You like stories about giant jealous babies? Ghost dogs in the desert? Anorexic bullies? Masturbation? Competitive eating? Serial killers? Sex and loneliness? If so this is the book for you.
I hear you’re working on a novel now. I also hear you’re no good with plot. That’s probably not going to end well, right?
- I have my fears. I also kind of don’t want to worry about all that and just write something that is fun and exciting for me, because I think that excitement is transferred to and shared by readers. But yeah, I was informed by a professor at one point that I’m good at imagery but terrible with plot, and I could hear the bells of doom clanging out of her throat, but over the years I’ve learned that you can just do whatever you want and everything ends up fine.
Is that why you write, then? Because it’s the space in which you can do whatever you want?
- Yes. It’s where, if I’m successful at the story or paragraph or sentence or word level, I can surprise and scare myself.
Speaking of being scared, your reading voice is a lot different than your actual voice. Can you explain what that is all about?
- Man, I don’t really know, other than the voice I read in seems right for the story at hand. I think a large part of it is that I want people to listen, I want them to feel, and the only way I’m going to achieve that is to become the story while I’m reading it.
That sounds…are you fondling your collection of crystals right now?
- I don’t have a collection of crystals.
Right. I knew that. So is the voice that you read in the same voice that you write in?
- I think it’s an approximation maybe. A lot of my stories start with a first line I’ve been carrying around for a while, and that line dictates the voice and the character and the atmosphere and the cadence. I can try to get there when I’m reading to an audience, but it’s impossible to do that all the way. I keep coming back to this idea of cadence—it’s important, I think.
Didn’t you want to name your daughter Cadence?
- No, I wanted to name her Carnation, after the Crayola crayon named Carnation Pink. I was also 7 years old at the time.
That’s way funnier. So, what inspires you, even if it’s an inspiration to rat your hair? In other words, what kind of shit are you into, even if that shit doesn’t affect your writing at all?
- I think everything affects my writing in some way or another. But here goes: I have a shameful love for murder/crime shows like Wicked Attraction and 48 Hours Mystery. Keith Morrison is my spirit animal. I love scary movies and violent books. The Drive-by Truckers (the song The Deeper In, wow), Cap’n Jazz. Football. Edward Gorey. Dogs, all of them. The circus. Freshly baked cookies. Mexican food. Folk art. Rap and metal and country music. Putting Rs in words (“sark my dark”). Lately, TV theme songs. And I can’t tear my eyes from the sky.
I feel 13% closer to you now. Okay, final question: if George Lucas were to option one of your stories for his new all-hologram movie studio, which story would you want it to be?
- Definitely “That Baby.” There’s a lot of material there that I feel confident George Lucas could interpret in really exciting ways. For one, the film adaptation is just screaming for lasers and an alien jug band. And I mean, a 4D rendering of Levis, the baby in that story, complete with baby boner and beshitted diaper, would really show all those idiots in high school who called me a freak, right?" - Lindsay Huntr's self-interview at The Nervous Breakdown

Lindsay Hunter: “That Baby”

Lindsay Hunter: “Out There” & “This One”

Lindsay Hunter, Don't Kiss Me: Stories, FSG Originals, 2013.

An explosive story collection from a bold, blistering new voice
With broken language, deep vernacular, unexpectedly fierce empathy, and a pace that’ll break your granny’s neck, Lindsay Hunter lures, cajoles, and wrenches readers into the wild world of Don’t Kiss Me.
     Here you’ll meet Peggy Paula, who works the late shift at Perkin’s and envies the popular girls who come in to eat french fries and brag about how far they let the boys get with them. You’ll meet a woman in her mid-thirties pining for her mean-spirited, abusive boyfriend, Del, a nine-year-old who is in no way her actual boyfriend. And just try to resist the noir story of a reluctant, Afrin-addled detective. 
     Self-loathing, self-loving, and otherwise trapped by their own dumb selves, these characters make one cringe-worthy mistake after another. But for each bone-headed move, Hunter delivers a surprising moment that chokes you up as you peer into what seemed like deep emptiness and discover a profound longing for human understanding. It’s the collision of these moments that make this a powerful, alive book.
     The stories of Don’t Kiss Me are united by Hunter’s singular voice and unflinching eye. By turns crass and tender, heartbreaking and devastatingly funny, her stories expose a world full of characters seemingly driven by desperation, but in the end, they’re the ones who get the last laugh. Hunter is at the forefront of the boldest, most provocative writers working now.

“The cover alone is great, but what’s inside will make you laugh and scream and cringe and cry—in the best of ways, of course.” —Jen Doll

“Hunter’s magical prose is the sort of thing that might happen if George Saunders and Gertrude Stein co-edited Raymond Carver. The stories vary wildly in pace and procedure, but each has its own visceral language that goes straight to the gut.” —Ashley Baker

Don’t Kiss Me, Hunter’s second short story collection, is a bold, haunting, and beautiful observation of lives lived outside the scope of the mainstream . . . Hunter near-effortlessly captures the hopes, fears, realizations, regrets, and desires of the uglier, more taboo, and misunderstood side of humanity. Though their worlds may be sordid, Hunter manages to infuse her misfits with incredible amounts of empathy and humor. Instead of repulsed, we often find ourselves rooting from the sidelines. And it’s hard not to voraciously ingest all 26 stories in Don’t Kiss Me, given their breakneck pace, raw emotion, and Hunter’s own propensity for language that pops but never fizzles . . . [Don’t Kiss Me] is transgressive without being navel-gazing, confrontational without being aggressive. But above all, it contains a whole lot of Hunter’s bloody, beating heart.” —Rebecca Rubenstein

 “These 26 stories, deeply internalized in neurotic lyricism, are hilarious and fully realized portraits of the disavowed . . . And in the uproarious title story, a woman obsesses over a female coworker she envies and despises. Miranda July and George Saunders come to mind, but Hunter’s crass yet tender characters are unprecedented, relating fart jokes and impossible sentiment in stylized prose that mirrors their threadbare souls and ineffectual optimism.”—Jonathan Fullmer

“Overall these stories land with a wet slap—messy and confrontational. They demand your horrified attention, and they reward it with exaggerated and irresistible humanity.” —Publishers Weekly
“Lindsay Hunter is electrifying at the word level, sentence level, line level, idea level. Say hello to your new favorite.” —Amelia Gray
“Lindsay Hunter may be the most daring writer of any generation. Like animals on an undiscovered island, her stories are never-before-seen species to be gazed at with wonder, reverence, and no small amount of terror. In this collection of brilliant, deviant innovations, Hunter’s scorching comical voice will hold you tightly with a raunchy tenderness as you laugh and cry together through every imaginable apocalypse. Prepare to have your eyebrows singed, to get insanely high off the otherworldly fumes of its grotesque and unstoppable perfection.” —Alissa Nutting

“Lindsay Hunter’s prose should be part of a survival kit—her stories will start a fire and burn you. They’re heated, sardonic, fearless, and to the point. She mixes dark humor with everyday life, reminding me of writers like Amy Hempel, Maggie Estep, and A. M. Homes. Regardless of what she writes next, be it a book of poetry, a novel, or sentences carved on a gas station’s bathroom stall or scribbled on a tavern's soggy napkin, I wanna be the first one to read it.” —Frank Bill
“Lindsay Hunter is one hell of a writer who takes risks and leaves it all on the page in the very best ways. She makes the ugly beautiful and the raw elegant. Don’t Kiss Me, tell truths with a fierce, percussive voice that is not only wholly original but so powerful, it steals into your body, your bones.” —Roxane Gay