Your loved ones are trying to kill you, so you’d better kill them first. That’s a favorite theme of Lindsay Hunter’s in her debut story collection Daddy’s. The boyfriend in “Unpreparing” shares his feelings by fake-raping his girlfriend and accelerating their car into a tree, for thrills. The baby in “That Baby” grows too large, too fast, and manhandles his young mother for her breast milk, cursing at her. If you’re unlucky enough to be one of Hunter’s protagonists, you can’t escape your loved ones. You can only hope that an air bubble will enter your boyfriend’s IV and “it will reach his heart and he’ll go down, his heart exploding like a firecracker in an apple.” You can leave your monstrous baby at a playground and hope that he’s not strong enough to come after you.
Stories are often described as “harrowing,” but Hunter may have a case for trademarking the word. Like Mary Gaitskill and A.M. Homes, she accentuates the ways in which everyday life for women is physically gruesome and psychologically horrifying. (Can we call this Fem Noir?) To Hunter’s credit—and to our culture’s discredit—she hardly needs to exaggerate. It’s all too believable that an alcoholic father would drag his school-age daughter to a dive bar and present her with a Ziploc bag of quarters as a birthday gift, as in “Love Song.” But when Hunter has the daughter glance at the bar’s TV, where “the word BEAUTIFUL was stamped across the screen in urgent block letters, flashing like a neon sign on its way to burning out,” she’s offering much more than a sociopolitical fable.
Brevity gives Hunter’s language its force—“Jordan once snorted a Frito and coughed it out onto my breasts, then clapped them together until the Frito was in bits”—but her very shortest stories are the least satisfying ones, as they rely too much on elision and abrupt juxtaposition. She could use a novel to let us squirm in these queasy predicaments. Still, the twisted vignettes in Daddy’s are unified enough to add up to something awful and great.
– Brian Hurley