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Indiana, Indiana by Laird Hunt

I want you to promise me you
won't believe a word I just said.
I was wondering the other day how it was I became aware of Laird Hunt, this former UN Press Officer with the discomfiting habit of subverting the familiar. In literature as in life I am always amazed at the fine filagreed networks that connect random events and protagonists. Tracing back, not an easy task given my trend towards nostalgic diversions and an inability to concentrate, it seems Laird Hunt came via Percival Everett, who penned the introduction to my copy of The Impossibly, who followed from Ralph Ellison (in my timeline but perhaps also indirectly in a literary sense), in whom I became interested after reading Chester Himes, an author brought to my attention by a sales rep for Canongate, whose crime classics series I'd stumbled across by virtue of the unexpected presence of the word 'custard' in a Charles Willeford novel, Willeford having crossed my path previously in the form of Miami Blues, one of the litany of crime novels I read (and amazingly remember) during my teens when I'd exhausted the stock of Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett novels at Milford Haven Library.

That's twenty-five years in the making. I fucking love the flow of intertextuality!

Regardless of how I got here, after reading one I was sorely tempted to go out and hoard every single Hunt novel I could, an urge to which only the high price (but exquisite quality) of the not-for-profit publishers Coffee House Press editions put a stop. But clearly not for long.

And so along came Indiana, Indiana, which is a disarmingly simple novel told in such a fashion as to leave you speechless. 'My thoughts were so loud I couldn't hear my mouth,' wrote Modest Mouse in The World at Large, and thus it went for me. Noah (cue thoughts of arks and safe harbour from the tempest) is old, and alone except for cats and a man called Max, and the ghost of his father. In fact, perhaps ghost is the wrong word, but in the absence of a better description it will do. For Noah is a man with gifts, or maybe a broken mind incapable of discerning truth from reality, and in this context the drama of his life is replayed across the pages. This nebulous and unnerving device should render what is presented as deeply unreliable, as Hunt strives to take what is familiar and render it surprising, twisting the traditional experiences of seeing and hearing and reading and squeezing out a different kind of beautiful truth. But in fact, what happens, in a manner which I trust will not ruin the surprises of the slow reveal, is that the reader immediately accepts that Noah's visions are the truth, are what he remembers and what did happen, from the burning down of the house he shared with his common law wife, to the discarded responsibilities of his postal route, the slow creeping death of his father and his experiences of love and loss, stretched out in silent eternity between the pinioning anchors of the letters he received and re-reads, perhaps only with his mind's eyes, from his wife in her asylum isolation. But even as Noah's blissful sanctuary was ripped from him by the forces of madness and a community wary of their shared oddness, Noah is able to retreat into his own ark, away from the cold waters of loneliness, insulated by his collections of letters and pictures, with his masks and cats and a jug of homemade wine, as he sits by the crackling fire in his shed and drifts along on the meandering currents of memory and forgetting. And it is stunningly done. There are tiny moments of appalling beauty in the writing, and they build up into an elegy of one man's existence in a small community in the centre of Indiana, in the heart of the country.

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