Chuck Palahniuk said something about writing that echoed in my head while reading the debut collection of dysfunctional short stories in Daddy’s (Featherproof) by Lindsay Hunter. I paraphrase, but it goes something like this: “Teach me something, make me laugh, and break my heart.” And that’s what Lindsay Hunter does in this gut-wrenching collection of short fiction, with a sprinkling of hot sex and familial violence on top.

Set in primarily rural areas (inspired by her time in Ocoee, Florida from the years 1986 to 1996), these stories ring true in horrifying detail. If you’ve ever spent any time in the south, tipped some cows, maybe sniffed your sister’s panties out of curiosity, puked in a raggedy hotel room, seen your mama naked, or taken a backhand from your daddy, then you know what I’m saying. And that’s what gives these powerful stories of abuse, longing, and depravity their power: the authority in them.

Lindsay Hunter is fearless in her storytelling, no subject taboo, no moment from the past too dark or questionable to put down on paper. It makes me want to give her a hug, and then I remember, it’s fiction, dummy. She’s making worlds here, worlds where she doesn’t turn the camera away from the dirty parts, the naughty moments with a conquest, or perhaps alone, as in “The Fence,” one of my favorite stories from this collection.

In “The Fence,” the narrator gets off on an electric dog collar, placing it between her legs, slowly inching up to the edge of their property where the invisible fence lies buried, until the shock goes off:

“I wind the vinyl part of Marky’s collar around my hand, holding the plastic receiver in my palm, and then I press the cold metal stimulator against my underwear, step forward, and the jolt is delivered. Like a million ants biting. Like teeth. Like the G-spot exists. Like a tiny knife, a precise pinch. Like fireworks. I can’t help it—I cry out; my underwear is flooded with perfect warmth. I lie back in the grass and see stars.”

And it only escalates. You can’t remain a passive viewer here, as waves of disgust mix with arousal, jealousy with sympathy, at the lengths the narrator goes to in order to feel alive.

In the end, the fence is taken away, her husband Tim asserting that they don’t need it any more, since their dog Marky certainly won’t stray now. But he does. He runs away the moment that fence is turned off, sauntering to the edge of their property line, and then across, and gone, as she watches, in silence.

The final paragraph echoes her loss, this connection she had made with herself, this dramatic monologue that she acted out on a daily basis, collapsing on the wet grass, complete. Her final thoughts, just after the dog, Marky, takes off into the woods:

“I put his water dish in the suds and cleaned that, too, and then I went upstairs and lay on our bed and wept until my ribs were sore. I went into our bathroom and straddled the edge of the tub, and it felt good to have something hard and cold there, but not nearly good enough.”

There are climaxes throughout this collection, both literal and figurative, and it is the latter that makes for some of her most powerful stories. I don’t think I’ll be taking away any of the her power with these stories to show one of these endings here, because the lead up to these moments is a gradual crescendo, building to something that echoes off the page, the imagery in black and white, the flash freezing it in your mind’s eye. You’ll have to experience that journey on your own, the sum larger than the parts.

For example, take “That Baby,” another of my favorites, the story of a baby boy named Levis that grows at a frighteningly rapid rate (to 40 pounds in the first week). His cute behaviors quickly turn into violent, disturbing actions, grasping at his momma’s breasts, teeth sticking out, his hands rough, uttering phrases like “Pickles, honey.” He brandishes a paring knife at his Daddy’s belly, drool running down his chin, and it isn’t long before Daddy runs out of them.

In the final scene where she abandons the boy in a park, either racing away from all of her motherly instincts, or embracing her greater need for survival, the haunting imagery stays with you:

“…and so getting up and walking to the car, Levis saying Honey? Levis standing up to see better, saying Honey…me getting into the car and locking the doors, key in the ignition, Levis just standing there, the late afternoon sunlight giving him a glow, just standing there with his fists at his sides, looking like a fat little man more than anybody’s baby, a little fat man beating his chest now, me pulling out onto the road, Levis wailing Honey, wailing Pickles, getting smaller and smaller in the rearview until I took a turn and he was gone, my heart like a fist to the door and my breasts empty and my nipples like lit matchheads.”

These are powerful stories, the twists and turns that Lindsay Hunter takes, away from the expected, down roads we usually pass up, preferring to avoid that dusty, bumpy ride, wanting to skip the rotting, musky scent of a decomposing skunk by the roadside, instead, staying on the highway, where everything flies by in a blur, and nothing has to hurt. In Daddy’s you’ll notice the possessive, not the plural, and the ownership of the actions in these stories, the dominance and simple belief in life a certain way never falters. This collection of southern gothics is a contemporary look at life in the shadows, the temptations and depravity that lurk behind closed doors and drawn lace curtains, yellowed by cigarette smoke, and torn at the edges. The longing and need for acceptance is evident on every page, reminding us of how far we sometimes have to go to survive the toxicities in our life, to emerge alive and whole.

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RICHARD THOMAS is the author of three books—his debut novel, Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications), and two short story collections, Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press) and Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press). He has published over 75 stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Pear Noir!, Word Riot, 3:AM Magazine, and Opium. He has won contests at ChiZine, One Buck Horror, and Jotspeak and has received five Pushcart Prize nominations to date. He is also the editor of two anthologies: The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press), and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk, both out in 2014. In his spare time he writes book reviews, as well as a column (Storyville) at Lit Reactor. He is represented by Paula Munier at the Talcott Notch Literary Agency. He can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog.

15 responses to “Review of Daddy’s by Lindsay Hunter”

  1. I’ve heard Lindsay read from this–it’s powerful, engaging stuff. Thanks, Richard.

  2. Thanks, Gina, appreciate the kind words. It was a great read.

  3. […] families and relationships. My full review of Daddy’s (Featherproof) is now up at The Nervous Breakdown, so go check it out. This is one of my favorite collections of the year, and Lindsay Hunter is a […]

  4. J. Ryan Stradal says:

    Fantastic to read this kind and thoughtful review, Richard. I’ve also seen Lindsay read from this collection and I agree that it was both hilarious and heartbreaking.

    • Thanks, J. Ryan. I initially thought she was just the host of Quickies! didn’t know she wrote as well. Boy, was I surprised. I think two of the hardest things to get right in writing (as well as film) is the ability to make somebody laugh, and the ability to terrify someone. I think Lindsay did both of these things well, and more.

  5. You speak the truth, Mr. Thomas. And so does Ms. Hunter… in glorious, graphic detail. One love.

  6. It’s already on my list to read at Goodreads and through other networks. Thanks for this fantastic review, makes me even more exited to read Lindsay’s heart-wrenching collection. This writer is on her way to something HUGE! Way to cover her, and I appreciate this happening in TNB! I love this network!

    • Thanks, Robert. I’m trying to focus my reviews on small presses and indie authors, emerging voices.

      If you’re antsy, just google Lindsay Hunter, there are some awesome stories online, until your copy of Daddy’s arrives in the mail. 🙂 This is one of my favorites:

      “Meat from a Meat Man”
      http://www.eyeshot.net/meat.html

      Also, if you want a press that has a similar aesthetic, then check out her label Featherproof. I’ve really loved other work by them as well, such as AM/PM by Amelia Gray (flash, funny, thoughtful) and Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler (dark and surreal) and many others. The do these cool FREE Mini Books you can download, to get a taste of some of their authors, and great voices in general.

      Another great voice that I always think of when I think of Lindsay and Amelia is Mary Miller and her collection Big World at Hobart’s imprint Short Flight / Long Drive Books. Loved this.

      And I did a review here earlier this year on Tina May Hall’s dark, touching collection The Physics of Imaginary Objects:

      http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/rthomas/2010/10/review-of-the-physics-of-imaginary-objects/

      So much great work out there!

    • Thanks, Robert. I’m trying to focus my reviews on small presses and indie authors, emerging voices.

      If you’re antsy, just google Lindsay Hunter, there are some awesome stories online, until your copy of Daddy’s arrives in the mail. 🙂 This is one of my favorites:

      “Meat from a Meat Man”
      http://www.eyeshot.net/meat.html

  7. I’ve enjoyed Lindsay’s stuff that was posted on here about a month ago. Great work. I even urged my students to check it out.

  8. Lindsay says:

    you’re all invited to thanksgiving, bring a shovel

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