Daddy’s by Lindsay Hunter

Content Warnings: a lot of displeasing descriptions of sex that leave you feeling gross afterward. Not all descriptions are described in detail, but the wording may be enough to leave you feeling uncomfortable.

daddys

You may have heard her name: Lindsay Hunter. Hunter came out with a new novel in August 2017 called Eat Only When You’re Hungry, which had/has some good buzz around it. You may be wondering if I will read it as part of my Reading Fat Women Challenge. No. Based on the synopsis, the book implies it compares drug addiction to eating too much. Hunter’s first published book, Daddy’s, was released by featherproof books, a small funky press, in 2010. The cover looks like a tackle box for fishing, and the book must be read sideways — it’s like you’ve opened the tackle box and are looking inside. I was iffy on the pictures because in most cases, I couldn’t tell what was depicted, but I appreciated the theme of objects on a tray (I think?) and attention to artistry.

IMG_20180129_125839263.jpg
Those are definitely people.

Daddy’s is 24 flash fiction stories, which are also called micro fiction. It means tiny story, though there isn’t a clear word count limit, because when have writers ever agreed on anything? I usually think of flash fiction as a solid paragraph or two. Lydia Davis is so fantastic at it that I’m teaching one of her books this spring. Lindsay Hunter’s flash fiction is more like what I would have enjoyed circa 2006 when I really got into a creative writing community. Everything is dirty, awful, unclean, and mostly uncomfortable — which I argue I loved back then because it spoke to my left over 1990s nihilism.

But in 2018, it’s too late for that.

In Hunter’s world, characters never take pleasure in sex. The guy gets in “a few good pumps,” and it’s over. I abhor such phrasing; I’m too word-conscious to accept such smushy diction. Even if you’re saying something mean, it’s got to sound good in your mouth. Case in point: when Zora Neale Hurston is insulting a person and says they’ve got:

…a mouth looking like a dishpan full of broke-up crockery!

Is it nice? No. Pretty? No; it’s gritty, but there is attention to the sounds the words make in your mouth — and it’s fun to say as a result.

Throughout the 24 flash fictions, I never felt like I was grounded with a narrator. Almost all are “I,” but each narrator is indistinguishable. I’m debating whether there is a single narrator or multiple “I”s. Ideas are repeated in a way that suggests the author has inserted herself into these narrators to make the reader understand her way of seeing things. Narrators note food in people’s teeth, eating junky food, the smell of genitals, pulling a her underwear to the side instead of taking them off when she’s having sex, and the night sky (described differently in each flash fiction (impressive!)). Are there actually characters separate from Hunter? I’m not so sure.

It’s a problem I see coming from a lot of creative writing programs, though I don’t know Hunter’s own background. I do know the homogenization of writing thanks to creative writing programs (of which I am a product) is an issue that concerns the writing community. In 2009, Cris Mazza published an article about this issue called “Too Much of Moi?” in The Writer’s Chronicle (again, Daddy’s was published in 2010). Small press publishers saw a rise in books written in first-person. People Mazza interviewed pointed out that the boundaries of character and authors is nearly absent. I argue that we got so much pressure to always be writing in fiction programs that it became easier to hide ourselves in our stories in order to meet deadlines. Besides, it feels like all the plots are used up, so why not write about ourselves? (so the thinking went). I was in many fiction workshops in which a writer justified his/her choices in a story because it “really happened.” Mazza spoke to Sally van Haitsma, a literary agent, who noted the following:

There does seem to be a correlation between [first person’s] overuse (or misuse) and its popularity with writers who are still learning the ropes of their craft. Almost all the fiction I’ve represented to date has been written in third person. I have to admit, when I begin reading a manuscript in first person it does raise a “red flag.”

But I don’t mean to support my point simply to belittle Lindsay Hunter. Heck, I’ve written the same kind of fiction I’m talking about. I much more enjoyed Hunter’s short story collection Don’t Kiss Me, published in 2013. She grew as a writer. There was a particular piece of sentence in Daddy’s that hinted at Hunter’s future growth. The narrator is floating on her back in a swimming hole in the middle of the night:

…it was the queerest feeling, what with my front nearly bursting at all that glitter and joy and my back tense and frightened of what swam underneath.

While I love that juxtaposition, but you may be asking what she’s looking at that brings her joy. It’s a distracting duo of metaphors: “The stars that dotted the sky were as white as little baby teeth and twinkled like diamonds. . . .” (emphasis added). While it’s not a mixed metaphor, I’ll bet you’re picturing twinkling baby teeth, too. I wouldn’t recommend you start with Daddy’s, but you should give her later publications a chance.

Advertisements

27 comments

  1. I’m fascinated to hear about the ‘problems’ you describe with creative writing programs, because this side of reading/writing/publishing is very new and hidden from me. What you talk about makes complete sense though, I think it all stems from this horrible advice of ‘write what you know’ LOL

    • Let me know if you have questions and I’ll be happy to answer them to the best of my ability. There is a book called NYC vs MFA, which is about the big publishers vs the work coming from writers out of MFA programs. I thought it would be more helpful, but I remember thinking the essays were mostly written by the editor’s friends.

  2. I know I’m certainly bored rigid with the prevalence of first person narratives and books about people’s tedious sex lives. My own opinion is that people think that writing is an end in itself – even if they have nothing interesting to write about. Fine, but call it a journal then, not a novel, and don’t publish it. This sounds dreadful, quite frankly…

    I shall now go and take some overdue anti-grumpy medicinal chocolate… 😉

  3. The writing sounds really clumsy. I wonder how people get published some times. If you think it’s all about moi is a problem with MFA programmes (that’s Australian spelling) then I guess you’re trying something different. As it happens, I prefer writers to “write what they know”. What can a white British man tell me about being a Botswanan woman, for instance (Alexander McCall Smith)?

    • True, but if you can’t imagine a character who isn’t you, that’s where I see a problem. Fiction that’s thinly veiled autobiography is what makes it hard to follow, for me. Even James Joyce’s novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, felt problematic (though it is in 3rd person). I can’t verify that Daddy’s is semi-autobiographical, but the repetition without evidence that the narrator is the same person suggests to me it is.

  4. This is such a great review, of a book that doesn’t sound all that great. What is it with so many sex scenes in books sounding awful (and often oversimplistic) ?

  5. Interesting format! I enjoyed your thoughts on first person overload and creative writing programs. This doesn’t sound like something I’d like. I’ve actually never read any flash fiction before. I should give it a try.

  6. Interesting review. I often find books reading like creative writing programme exercises, Jon McGregor’s books being a case in point, and sometimes it seems all there is is self-published genre books and self-conscious lit fit in the creative writing class mode!

  7. I’m not sure what you mean by the creative writing class mode, but I do think it is frustrating that so many small presses open so people can publish themselves and their friends. I see that a lot. These are the vanity presses. Featherproof isn’t a vanity press, but they are quite small; they don’t even take submissions right now.

    • I’m sorry, my comment wasn’t very clear. I meant there only seem to be two types of book coming out at the moment: a) a lot of genre stuff and b) self-conscious literary fiction that is itself quite generic and seemingly coming out of the creative writing courses and their exercises. Does that make more sense?

  8. Great review. This book sounds interesting, but I’ll probably never read it. I get the sense that the writing isn’t clean and clear enough for my liking and that the images would distract me.

  9. There is so much for me to take away from this review, Melanie! Thank you for exploring flash fiction, creative writing programs, and the separation of author and character in such a small period of time. I love how you’ve touched briefly on all these topics; I know this is just the tip of the iceberg for you.

    I read flash fiction and zines in college. For some reason, my brain associated them together at the time, but looking back I cannot figure out why. In the end, I stuck more with zines because while both forms felt unpolished and thrown together, I felt like zines often had a message and flash fiction was narcissistic. I never really noticed the focus on first-person, but perhaps that is where it started from?

    I will admit, I don’t often learn much about the authors I am reading. The two times that changes noticeably for me are when I am reading ARCs and have a relationship with the author, and when I am reading a book in first-person. I’ve always been intrigued with how the author puts their own experiences into a novel. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed reading first-person. But I rarely read anything so raw and unpolished now. I wonder if I went back and read some of my college-days flash fiction how I’d feel about it.

  10. I often struggle with connecting to short story collections – actually I’ve only read one collection that I would say I enjoyed – so I am not sure flash fiction would be up my alley.

    Kudos to the author for a unique format though! That type of this is very popular now, so she was ahead of the times! Did this format bother you?

  11. I’ve never heard of flash fiction before! Interesting. I’m not one for short stories, I like my books long, so I don’t think I’d particularly care for this style. And how interesting for the book to be read sideways! Did that hamper the reading or enhance it?

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s