Skip to main content

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.

Comments

How's about that then?

Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

In days gone by, when repeatedly pressed about what my favourite book might be, a banal question seeking an impossible and crude reductionist answer to which I was usually rude in response, I would offer Breakfast Of Champions as a pacifier. 

I first read it in University, and it has, to some degree, influenced how I think and feel about a lot of things. Strikingly, I've never wanted to re-read it. Perhaps I was afraid I'd find fault the second time around and wanted to uphold it as a paragon of meta-fiction. Perhaps, but then I'm a relentless consumer of fiction and was always on to the next consumable work, never having time or inclination to go back.

So in the spirit of a more considered and thoughtful phase of my life I decided I wanted to read something that once made me feel good.

I'd clearly not remembered it very well.

But before that, I'm amazed I've gone *mumbles* years without once mentioning Kilgore Trout in my reviews, even in passing. The same goes fo…

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

I thought I'd talked about Thomas Bernhard here somewhere before - the vitriol, the bitterness, the hilarity that was Old Masters - but it appears not, or, more likely, that I search like I think; superficially. Nevertheless, at least I now have the opportunity to present him for your consideration, albeit with the oily glaze of my opinion applied liberally. 

An Austrian author and playwright, Bernhard had a curious relationship with the land of his birth. He was highly critical of both the people and state, regularly attacking the church, the government, the populace (who he labelled stupid and stubbornly contemptuous) and venerable old institutions like the concert halls and cultural venues of Vienna. Indeed, in his will, he strictly forbade any new productions of his works, both unpublished novels and poems, and stagings of his plays. His characters often deliver long monologues filled with bile and spite, frequently inhabiting considered but oddly irrational-seeming positions. …

Love And Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon

"When he was young, like me, he said, he used to think that all the great writers knew something he didn't... He was burning to write, he wanted to break through to that fancy knowledge, he was hungry for it. But now he knew that that hunger was vainglorious; now he knew that writers knew nothing, really; most of them were just faking it. He knew nothing. There was nothing to know, nothing on the other side." – The Noble Truth of SufferingYou know me and short stories–I shan't revisit old graves–but every now and again I find a collection, usually with one author, that simply blows me away. Something in them speaks to personae I didn't even know I hid behind. Something rips free the mask, the fiercely clutched identity, fake as you like, and exposes everything. Those authors I fall madly in love with, because I hate them. I detest that they can say things that are as yet unformed zygotes in the barren womb of my mind, not even the germ of a clumsy, badly phrased …