by Lindsay Hunter
Reviewed by Sheila Ashdown
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.