I’ve known Lindsay Hunter since before I was of legal age to drive. And I’ve known her sister since the third grade. I go way back with her family. We’ve shared holidays, run-ins with the law, late night movie marathons, and humid, smoke-filled Florida afternoons full of teenage angst and misery.
There’s far too much for me to say about Lindsay. She’s always inspired me, confused me, surprised me, and even eluded me. She’s not so much a mystery to me as she is a wonderful curiosity. She’s many things. Many amazing, confounding things. She’s even a mom now! And of all the people I’ve known in my life, she’s one of the ones that always stands out.
It was in the first moments of having met Lindsay all those years ago that, in her words, she knew it was love. Funny thing was, so did I.
The cause of that love came out of me having nonchalantly wiped a giant booger on her bedroom wall, right before her very eyes. Her face contorted in horror and adoration, my two most favorite reactions from a person. We were bonded ever since.
We share a dark, grotesque sense of humor and love for the strange. And I never forget her voice. With her sister, we used to make up ridiculous stories about people we didn’t like, and ruined our throats wearing out our absurd and inappropriate jokes.
I think about our adolescent days in Ocoee, Florida, and all the weird and stupid things we did. We laughed a lot. But we’ve come a long way from the suburban swamps.
This week, Lindsay Hunter’s second book, Don’t Kiss Me, comes out. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, it’s a book of short stories about people making trouble for themselves. They concoct variations of the truth, they see situations askew and they do not, for anything, listen to reason. They’re devices of their own heartbreak.
Lindsay’s style is what I’m going to call “linguistic terrorism.” She’s the punk rock equivalent of a literary talent. She doesn’t so much tell the story as slaps you in the face with it. You barely have time for a decided sentiment before you’re carried on to the next. Its a refreshingly bombastic assault, and it’s probably one of the most enjoyable reads you’ve had in a long time. It’s her gift to you.
Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook said, “Lindsay Hunter’s prose should be part of a survival kit—her stories will start a fire and burn you.”
And trust me, you’ll want to get burned. Whether it’s fumbling toward disappointment with the Perkins waitress or shedding sexual kitchen floor inhibitions with the lifeless housewife, you will not walk away unscathed.
I recently asked Lindsay some questions about her style, work, her taste for the O.G., and from where the beastly humans in her mind are conjured.
Robbie: Who are some of your biggest influences, writing and otherwise?
Lindsay: The Coen brothers. Keith Morrison. Lynda Barry. Cormac McCarthy. Cindy Sherman. The Drive-by Truckers. My mom’s high school yearbooks. Nostalgia. Rage.
Your stories typically have some sort of end (or stopping point), but you don’t really adhere to conventional narrative standards. Why is that?
Yeah I’ve been called out for that a bunch. It feels hacky to some people. I think maybe it’s because I started really studying writing as a poet? I’ve always been more interested in the words and sentences and images than I am in the gun ever going off. And there’s more than one way to tell a story. What if the story wasn’t in what happened, but in how the character sees his immediate surroundings? Or the lies she tells herself? What if the whole thing was one big lie. What if the meaning was in what was said rather than what was done.
Your style is often aggressive and almost violent. The words can jump off the page and punch you. It’s kind of linguistic terrorism. What inspires you to write this way?
You, partly! You and Adrienne were always looking for different/horrible/gross ways of saying things, and that stuck with me. And aren’t we all sick of the same old ways of describing the sun, or a wound, or a dead man? I also feel strongly that the story should inhabit the words and vice versa. Each informs the other. There’s a voice and there’s avoice.
I’m wholly flattered. *gush*
What do you have against clear, linear thought?
Nothing! I would love to be able to write like that. I’d kill to be Alice Munro, I really would. But I’m done torturing myself for not being her.
You embrace “vulgarity,” and I applaud that. How does “vulgarity” inspire you and why?
I feel like when people are being their true, true selves, it gets primal, and that often comes off as vulgar. Whether it’s a man digging in his nose in the quiet of his car or a woman using her dog’s electric collar to get off because it works, and because she needs it, I want to witness that stuff, I want to read it, I want to write it.
Has becoming a mother toned that down in any way?
Not so far, no! At least in my writing. But I have noticed I’m not as eager to listen to Trick Daddy’s J.O.D.D., which I used to think was hilarious, because I don’t want Parker thinking it’s okay to talk about a woman like that. How whitebread of me!
Your characters are profoundly broken at times, haunted by the actions of others and themselves. What haunts you?
All that same shit. Worrying I’m a hack, worrying the words will stop coming, worrying my own darkness will overtake my son’s light.
I saw that “Tampa” author Alissa Nutting said you “may be the most daring writer of any generation.” Do you think about being daring or bold, or taking it too far, when you write, or is just part of who you are?
I get asked this a lot. I hate the image people might have of me sitting at my desk tweaking my nipple until something “weird” “vulgar” “gross” comes to mind and writing that. I honestly set out to write these characters as human beings despite the hyper-real of what might happen. I try not to let my ego take over, or that voice worrying that I’m not giving people what they want to get too loud. But it ain’t easy!
You have a very unusual, performative way in which you read your stories. What are some positives and negatives about that for you? And what are people’s reactions?
Some positives are that it lets me get lost in the story, and kind of become it, and that has its own power. I get very nervous before a reading, my innards are positively screaming in terror, so it helps just letting the story take over. One negative is that it might overshadow the words themselves. I can’t decide on that one – does it help illuminate the words/images, or are people just deafened into silence?
What’s your favorite story in “Don’t Kiss Me”?
My favorite story to read out loud is “After.” Just blasting the audience with that apocalypse. My favorite story in general might be a tie between “Me and Gin” and “Brenda’s Kid” – they feel the most emotionally satisfying to me.
Final question: Do you really like Olive Garden more than Outback?
Uh Robbie, Outback can kiss my grits. I went there last time I was in Florida and all they had to offer a vegetarian like me was an iceberg wedge salad, and even that came with bacon bits. Olive Garden is like an oasis, an Eden, a calming pool of alfredo. (Creamy fettucine. Chocolate shit.) I was talking about this with a newer friend the other day (people are always shocked/disgusted at how much I love the OG) and I realized the main reason I love it is nostalgia. Been going there regularly since I was 14. We almost had our rehearsal dinner there. When you’re there, you’re family!
Check out Lindsay reading from Don’t Kiss Me: