by Lindsay Hunter

featherproof books 2010
First Collection

"At a Golden Griddle in Alabama he met a woman at the counter. Bought her a cup of coffee and watched her stir it one way and then the other. She pressed her finger into some spilled sugar, told him she was missing the part of her tongue that recognized sweet. At that, his eyes filled. "

Reviewed by Mark Staniforth

Lindsay Hunter's Daddy's is a collection of 23 jagged little micro-fictions in the southern gothic genre. By any standards it's a genre that doesn't take a whole lot of prisoners where harsh realities are concerned. Hunter takes it a stage further with her tight, razor-sharp prose and an uncompromising cast of characters so deep-down on their luck it's hard to see how they'll ever climb back out. In Food Luck a young guy bullies his kid brother into increasingly repulsive competitive eating feats. In Finding There, a guy abandons his wife and kids and sets off aimlessly across the state, hooking up with strangers in seedy motels. In The Fence, a wife derives sexual pleasure from a dog collar and an electric fence.

In Scales, a teenager seeks solace in her friend's weight gain:
In the kitchen she piles a tub of ice cream, spray cheese, Doritos, a six-pack of diet Coke, and pretzels onto a tray. We put it between us on the couch and she sits, cross-legged and naked, and watches me eat. Is that good? she asks. That looks really good.
In the best story, the shockingly unforgettable Marie Noe - Talks To You About Her Kids, the narrator describes the serial-killing of her children in language so empty it leaves you gasping.
Constance was a moron. She never even opened her eyes, though Art swears she had one blue one and one brown one. By the time she was born I’d had a headache for two years straight, and the fact that she never made a sound, didn’t look at me, slept through the night, that weighed more on me than any kinda screaming she coulda done. Like her quiet was creating a noise louder than all the other babies combined. It split my ears. I’d pinch her til she’d cry to make up for it, and I guess that’s wrong. She was dead after 24 days. Art went downtown one night and got the word Constance tattooed on his upper arm and when he came home I told him what a idiot he was.

Hunter's triumph is to make her writing so utterly unsentimental, so devoid of judgement, that you feel for a lot of these folk. Those with sensitive dispositions should skip it (they're hardly likely to have even read this far). Even those who consider themselves broad-minded may baulk at the occasional plot-twist. But crucially, despite the pitch-dark storylines, with their recurring themes of food abuse and dirty, casual sex, there's no sense of shocking for the sake of it. There's a few stories that don't quite hit the mark. But those that do will stick to you like bonfire smoke, impossible to rub out no matter how hard you try.

It's an unforgettable collection, published by Featherproof Books, fast making a name for themselves as a daring and innovative short fiction house. The paperback version's packaged up like a bait box. It's appropriate, because it hooks you in and doesn’t want to let go, and the more you're left hanging there, the less you find you want to.

Read a story from this collection in Nerve

Mark Staniforth is a writer and journalist from North Yorkshire, England. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His first book of short stories, Fryupdale, is available free via Smashwords.
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Lindsay Hunter lives in Chicago, where she is the co-host of Quickies. This is her first book.

Read an interview with Lindsay Hunter