Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter
FSG Originals, 2013
Lindsay Hunter’s second collection, Don’t Kiss Me, was eagerly awaited by those her read her first collection, Daddy’s. She’s been called someone to watch. She’s back in Don’t Kiss Me with 26 new stories, most of them from the point of view of, or about, young women. Even when I thought a character was in trouble or messed up, Hunter made the character appear surer than me, stronger than me. How did she do that?
Some of Hunter’s strength came out in her ability to change one word and scare the crap out of me. The “we” (instead of “I”) from “RV People” become menacing. There are no individuals, only a mass that crashes in waves over newcomers to the RV. When “we” picks up a woman with a baby, “We take her baby from her, we pass it forward, we rock it in our arms.” Our arms removes the individual and turns people something monstrous, like a demon (or tarantula?). Perhaps “we” will feed upon this baby…but in a twist, “we” feeds upon the mother instead. The whole story felt like realizing there is a hair in your mouth…and finding that it is your hair…and then trying to pull it out and realizing you’ve swallowed most of it…and as your hair comes out of your throat, you find food still attached to the hair.
Hunter’s voice was consistent despite changes in narrator, which made me curious, but the slow drawl of each voice and the use of bad grammar lulled me into a familiar place, one I thought filled with simple people. Hunter crafts characters who say things like, “They’s biscuits and jam and shit in the kitchen, help yeself.” But I never knew of what those simple folks were capable. I realized one young female character’s attitude reflects the direction in which Hunter’s stories go: “Just think something up and then do it. That’s all.” Just as the motto works for the young woman, it works with Hunter, too.
One of the best stories, notably so for it’s style, voice, and it’s up and up and up anxiety-factor is “Birthday Luncheon.” One long run-on sentence, the story begins with the narrator’s brother’s pregnant girlfriend grinding on a food table and raises in intensity when we realize the guest of honor, the father of the narrator, is racist–in fact, vile. But in this very short piece, Hunter made me laugh, as if I were witness to this horrible cluster-fuck of a party. Imagine this: “…they was a pair, your daddy in his wheelchair and your step-aunt in her scooter, your brother told you they just rammed wheels and tallied that up as sex, the jostling was enough…” Hunter chooses her words carefully; notice how using incorrect subject/verb makes the tone of the piece read like chronic black-bottomed bare feet. There’s just something deliciously nasty there.
Prepare to read Hunter’s collection with a bit of attitude before you get going. Prepare to walk over her words as if they are shards of glass. Prepare to get lost in the wilderness. Prepare to be unprepared.