WEBEXCLUSIVE

Torquing the Form


Lindsay Hunter
Don’t Kiss Me
(FSG Originals, 2013)

Flash fiction is weird for any number of reasons, not least that when flash fiction fails, the reader can end up feeling not so much like the specific story failed, but like the enterprise of flash fiction is untenable. A bad poem is a bad poem, but it’s a rare bad poem that makes poetry itself seem a worthless endeavor.

Of course, there’s plenty of great flash fiction, and one of the reasons flash fiction is worth believing in—even when one experiences any number of those dismal who-even-cares, that-didn’t-do-anything, nothing-happened-and-not-in-some-artsy-way pieces of flash fiction which don’t so much glaze the eyes as provide a shockingly strong argument for television, any television—is that while flash fiction does what stories and novels do, the compression supercharges the act: the best flash fiction feels like it’s a room inside of you being created and then getting suddenly blown up.

If there’s some shortlist of great flash fiction folks going, Lindsay Hunter has to be on it. One could in fact argue that there’s a new generation of flash fictionists (fictioneers?) coming up (their most obviously grand-folks would seem to be Diane Williams and Lydia Davis, their mansion of choice: NOON magazine), and if one was to make that argument, Lindsay Hunter would have to be among the very forefront of young authors torquing the form into whatever shape it’s about to take, and her latest, Don’t Kiss Me, should be used as something like a screwy neon map of the as-yet undiscovered territory.

The unique glory of Lindsay Hunter’s work is in the torquing noted a sentence back: there is massive, massive pressure in her work, sentence-level pressure, which builds weird, narrative, emotional tension in the reader. It’s hard to explain or get at. My inclination to write anything at all about Lindsay Hunter’s work has everything to do with the fact that I’ve been so mystified, in the best ways, by it, which is a fine experience as a fan but less compelling when one wants to actually critically address whatever’s happening. By way of example, here, for instance, is the first bit of “Three Things You Should Know About Peggy Paula,” which is Don’t Kiss Me’s first story:

One. In high school Peggy Paula worked as a waitress at the Perkins. Night shifts were her favorite, kids from her school would come in after games or dances with bleary eyes and messy hair and Peggy Paula knew they’d been drinking and smoking those flimsy joints she’d see them passing, the girls with smudged makeup and rat’s nests in the back of their heads, proud unblinking eyes, scanning the dining room like I dare you, I dare you to guess what I just let Jared or Steve or Casey do to me, I let him and I liked it and I don’t care, and Peggy Paula felt honored just to be near these girls, envious, taking their orders for French fries and ranch, keeping their secrets and the sticky lipgloss tubes they’d sometimes leave behind.

The fiction could be said to unwind or unspool from there, but nothing’s un- in this thing: Peggy Paula is achingly lonely, desirous, and wanting, and makes decisions to satisfy those aches and desires, and of course decisions made for the sake of ache and desire almost never lead one to glorious sustenance, emotional or otherwise, and Peggy Paula’s no exception. Perhaps it’s easier to take a cue from Hunter and try to taxonomize what’s happening.

First: Lindsay Hunter writes, with some frequency, pretty longer-than-average sentences. That excerpt from “Three Things” high-gears it another 284 words from the quoted bit before ceasing (her sentences frequently feel to end as if they’re tossed knives thrumming in old trees—they don’t stop). Second: Hunter writes real stuff, “real” meaning not once do her characters purchase their way out of bad scenarios because of the accident of the moneyed family they happened to be born into; cultural capital, which has been a pretty defining aspect of literary fiction for at least the last sixty or a hundred years, does not much apply. Meaning: Hunter’s characters are frequently broke among lots of capitals and currencies, cultural among them; the plotpoints of cool, indie movies don’t apply, and no one gets Zach Braffianly lifechanged by fey jangling guitar stuff. Hunter’s work lives in a world of Dairy Queens and limited options, but it’s not Carverianly bleak or blue-collared: it feels, again, ahem, real. Third: there’s this—I don’t know how to articulate this thing Hunter does, but it’s wrapped up in the You of the story’s title and then in the way, a few lines in, those girls look around “like I dare you, I dare you to guess what I just let Jared or Steve or Casey do to me.” I suppose we could say her work is implicative in some way, how that you shows up.

Yet what this hey-there-reader aspect does is allows us a place to watch, to bear witness to stuff we’re told not to otherwise because society, norms, manners, and we’re given that place to watch in the most casual of ways (look how quickly and easily the sentence turns toward the reader). Sometimes the word grotesque is used with regard to Hunter’s work, but that’s a disservice: her stuff is to an extent raw, and her characters don’t often share the manners or morals or values we often (and often unconsciously) expect to see expressed in the sort of bullshit prototypical middle-class ‘values’ most commonly fueling lots of literary fiction. What her work is, ultimately, feels almost like a dare, as if there’s this strange, magic person named Lindsay Hunter who sits down to write some imagined person’s odd, dark angles, briefly, and to write them in a way that it’s almost like we hear them from two stools away at a bar—some poor lady whose grown son’s such a baby she’s got to come over and work on his house, got to use the spatula she lent him (which he claimed he’d already returned, but he hadn’t) to clear out his gutter and he’s just sitting inside playing video games, and this whole time there’s a naked girl in his bedroom. We hear stories like these, at bars—conversational snatches our inner lives dine on like constant appetizers. Hunter offers these bits in full wing, humanizes them, scrapes back the Hi there nice to meet you and the My name is Peggy Paula and the I worked at Perkins in high school and gives us the more elemental I am full of wanting, and I want to know I’m alive.

It’s a magnificent trick she pulls again and again, handing the reader these awarenesses, these hard-edged narratives, and it’s incredible how they all, as they flood in, add up to a work out of one’s empathy: it’s impossible to hate as easily after reading these stories, impossible to as simply dismiss the strange people surrounding you in every public place. Don’t Kiss Me will make you believe—in the stubborn-if-super-weird glory of being alive, in flash fiction, and, most especially, in Lindsay Hunter.




Weston Cutter is from Minnesota and is the author of You’d Be A Stranger, Too and All Black Everything.

Contributor

Weston Cutter

WESTON CUTTER is from Minnesota and is the author of You'd Be A Stranger, Too (BlazeVOX Books, 2010) and All Black Everything (New Michigan Press, 2012).

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