November 8, 2010
I walked to the bus stop on the corner, thinking about the scuffs on his shoes and how there was still nothing on his walls and how if you’re lonely and drunken I guess it makes sense that you’d be finding meanings everywhere your eyes fell and believing with your whole body in some hillbilly song about the greener side of a hill. But see then when the bus come I seen what Daddy meant about things at night looking different, to look at it the bus some kind of miracle box of light trundling toward me with an offering of strangers and a lungful of air conditioning and a bell I could ring any time I wanted to, to make it stop, but I guess that’s not how no tough bitch would talk.
In Lindsay Hunter’s book of short fictions called Daddy’s there is no barrier whatsoever between the banal and the horrible, between boredom and violence. Most of the stories are narrated by children or adolescents, probably all female and all dangerously vulnerable but especially to the adults who try to parent them. Hunter creates powerfully claustrophobic worlds in which everyone is equally damaged and desperate to not let themselves look beyond the edges of their own slim prospects. “Nothing beyond worth mentioning,” one girl declares. It’s dangerous and disappointing to imagine an alternative, much less an exit strategy. The best defense is to grow numb and tough.
She leaned in, and said Let me ask you, you a tough bitch yet? You made of chain mail yet? I could smell her cinnamon chewing gum and her powdery perfume. When I didn’t answer she said You work on that. Work on getting mean, hear?
Sex is the weapon of choice. It’s the only currency in Daddy’s world. Men – and boys – use sex to give them a false sense of power, needing to humiliate others in turn, which keeps the vicious cycle of violence and domination moving down through the generations with all the assuredness of real DNA.
My mother told me I’d amount to nothing if I kept following Jordan around, and she was right. But amounting to nothing is also a job, it takes work, if you let slack a little you can find yourself thinking fondly of the orange walls at the high school you dropped out of, or of the crispy onions your mother sprinkled over your pizza, or of the ceiling you’d look into while you dreamed of being an actress of something.
Daddy’s is full of uncredited photographs. The book is physically designed around the conceit of a fishing tackle box. The front cover is the top of the box and is labeled Daddy’s Bait & Novelties, the back cover conflates the price tag for the tackle box with the bar code for the book. On many of the pages within the book are photographic images of objects placed within the plastic pull-out drawers of a tackle box. Most of the objects are ordinary items: buttons, tweezers, a pen cap, a broken egg shell. The plastic drawers contain gross looking residues and substances.
The grim, menacing photographs usually don’t bear a direct relationship with the individual page or story in which they are found. They’re a crucial part of the book but they’re not strategically placed like the embedded photographs employed by W.G. Sebald and other writers. The images in Daddy’s seem more like ambient photography or the visual equivalent to a Bernard Herrmann score to a Hitchcock film.
Featherproof Books is an interesting indie publisher in Chicago with a great website full of innovative ways to attract and engage readers, including an iPhone app that provides 333-word stories and lots of downloadable stories that are ready to printed and folded into tiny accordion books.