Samantha Hunt’s The Dark Dark tells stories of change; sometimes warped, sometimes traumatic, always ethereal metamorphosis. The ink blot on the cover, dark and oddly shaped, imperfect, welcomes us in to the dark, asks us to look inside for the things that are hiding (we see a deer- what else could there be?). And this is what Hunt’s characters do, too- they look into the dark, willing or unwilling, by force or by curiosity, they stare into the dark dark dread. This collection is precisely what I look for in a work of literature- it’s why I love Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, Ramona Ausubel’s Awayland, Lauren Groff’s Florida… all of these works explore the limitations of women’s roles (as mothers, wives, artists), and what happens when women rub against them, refusing to not transcend.
The first story, ‘The Story Of,’ Norma walks through a normal day in her life, getting lunch with her sister-in-law, taking the long way home, sifting through online chatrooms for women who can’t get pregnant. There are multiple levels of entrapment in this story; Norma and her husband Ted even live in a gated housing area, something Norma feels contempt for each time she enters her community. She’s trapped too by her desire and inability to become pregnant, something she’s become embarrassingly desperate for; and she’s trapped, most of all, by her desire to make sense of this lack of ability. She believes Ted must be having an affair, thus making them unable to conceive. And I do this, too- look for an answer to the most heartbreaking human truths; otherwise, how do we move forward? When she does return home, Norma happens upon a hawk, and decides it must be a metaphor. She calls Ted at work and tells him the good news, explaining she must be getting pregnant soon- “Take a bit of good news and Norma will always spread it out thin over the telephone lines, until all she has left is a small smudge, a quickly fading memory of the color yellow and the white-speckled feathers.” A woman follows Norma to her house, a lime green BMX bicycle coming with her. The woman becomes known as ‘Dirty Norma’ since the two women have the same name, and she is later revealed to be Ted’s sister. This unknown becomes interesting to Norma, and she ruminates on marriage, on how surprising it can be to learn something new of one’s partner: “She gives Ted back dimensions he once had. Maybe he still has them. The possibility he might have a secret, be a secret. The possibility of kindness and depth, wonder, and maybe even grief.” Norma once again gets her period, and learns that Dirty Norma is pregnant. The slap-in-the-face fact plummets Norma again, leaves her digging furiously in her back yard- “Sometimes it is easy to hear what the grass is saying.To hear the message in the humming engine of the never-ceasing lawn mower five houses down.” Norma allows herself a long moment in the rage. “All around them are the small sounds of nature. Heat meeting green leaves, the sprinkler, the invisible bugs who are doing it in the grass, resilient now to pesticides, making babies in the yard. Norma tightens her grip on the spade’s wooden handle. That dark head. The shovel’s blade would lodge into the skull, then Norma would probably have to wiggle it free to take a second whack. In that moment of true horror, of committing true harm to another human’s body, something would be exchanged, mingled, met. Something would be compensated. She’d give the world a reason for being so cruel to her. Norma still might never get a baby but at least she’d know why, and a reason would be something she could hold on to at night.” How extraordinaringly terrifying that Norma can so easily think of not only murder, but pre-meditated murder, a clear and step-by-step how-to. Envy reeks into the soil she is digging in, and she lets it drip before she tills the soil again, burying what has been lost.
The next story, ‘All Hands,’ alternates between two perspectives, one male and one female. The man is a Coast Guard worker, someone on night shift who inspects docked ships. He references, in vague and weary tones, a young girl (hence the mention of the school backpack and her memorization of presidents) who he’d slept with, who’d insisted on him not wearing a condom, who seemed to want “it to work.” There’s a few more references to the girl and their sex while he flails in the dark water, trying to fix a ship but instead becoming victim to the violent water. He’s thinking of the girl and her history paper as he drowns. The perspective moves then to a first-person narrator, a counselor who works at a high school where thirteen young girls are pregnant. The principal of the school, a man named Caplan, is flabbergasted by this feat of events, which, of course, has been blown up all over the country. He becomes exasperated by the unknowns- “He doesn’t deserve to lose his job. It’s not his fault alone. Adolescent girls can be hard to understand. They are like an uncontacted tribe of humans. And maybe they should remain that way. Maybe we should collect all the adolescent girls in America and send them out to sea together. Eventually the rest of us would miss them so much we’d try harder to understand why they are the way they are and why we think such awful things about them. We’d realize how scared and wrong we’d been to think girls are made only of light things.” That last FUCKING LINE. The most confused I’d made other people was in my young teenage years- the most I confused myself was also then. And I wasn’t all light, not at all. I wanted to give handjobs in public places at age 13, wanted to give power to the body I only recently felt. “When I was a girl I pretended my pillow was a different man each night. And the pillow men would take me here, or there, out into life, to a Bee Gees concert maybe. That seemed like an adult thing to do. Men made the weather and I loved them for it. Then I got pregnant, then the real men disappeared, and I made my own weather. Storms. Sunshine. Storms.” I loved the power of my sexuality before it was taken from me by men. I loved the innocent explorations of my own hands inside of my own self, the cell-phone vibrations that made me come in my backyard when no one was home. I craved to be on top of my young boyfriend at age 13, loved rocking my body against his until a wet spot appeared on his pants. But, like in the above quotation, this disappeared. My sexuality became not only mine but their’s, the men who grabbed me in crowded places, who reached in my pants even when I said no, the men who’d pushed the back of my head further down onto their penis, the man who inserted himself inside me unexpectedly in the shower… It wasn’t fun anymore. And maybe these young pregnant girls know that- maybe they want the innocent ownership of their sexuality forever, want a marker of what they’ve achieved in the form of a child. I’d give a lot to experience my sexuality again without the scars of men’s unwanted and untrue ownership. The story introduces the two narrators to one another- the woman goes to the Coast Guard base to visit a man she routinely fucks and finds the man from before dripping wet, looking terrified. She mentions the pregnant girls at the school, and we see the man flinch, the alleged perpetrator. The two characters bask together in their unknowingness; they offer no answers but instead stare at the dark water, trying (but not forcing) to see what’s inside.
‘Beast’ is one of my favorite stories in the collection. A first-person narrator, again female, again a wife full of indefinable dread, lays in bed paranoid of Lyme disease. She asks her husband to search her body for tics, although they live in California and tics are rare. Routine seems important to her, as she asks him to get naked, too, a sort of protective spell she can cast over herself as she sleeps. We learn she lost a brother to suicide, an act motivated by a single line: “He couldn’t move forward because he couldn’t see the point of it. ‘Don’t you know where forward is headed?'” This question plagues the narrator silently, keeps her up at night, makes the dread surrounding their life large and inhospitable. At night, she has been transforming into a deer. While her husband sleeps, her body morphs, gaining hooves and a slender, soft body. The story shows her working up the courage to tell her husband- “When I tell my husband what is happening to me at night, which I’m going to do, very soon now, he’ll want to know how, and then, after that, he’ll want to know why I am becoming a deer. That’s the most troubling part and the reason I’m having trouble telling him.” Like in ‘The Story Of,’ Hunt writes from the perspective of a female looking for reasons. She wants there to be a snug corner, an easy answer for the blame, for the shame. And she finds it in her affair, the accidental night in a club bathroom with a stranger that has turned into ongoing phone calls and an extreme desire, an extreme sadness.”Lust makes room, the way a bomb exploding makes room, clearing things out of the way.” She finally does tell her husband about the transformation, and instructs him to stay awake until it happens. And, while she transforms, he does too, a buck beside her- “I follow him into our living room. ‘How?’ I want to ask him, but we are both deer now and deer cannot speak.” The two walk into the dark night, a group of deer with them and all around them. “he urges me forward, as if that is where we both belong, as if that is where we’ve both always been. I know where forward is headed. What do the deer mean? That is a good question. That is the best question. I think the answer is somewhere nearby. I can smell it. I think I could almost say what the answer is but I am a deer now and deer can’t talk. My husband steps forward again and I follow him right up to the edge of the deer. His antlers have eight points. I tell myself I’ll remember. I’ll find him or hope he will find me, or maybe being found won’t matter when we are animals. I step forward and then I step forward again, closer to the deer. I feel the warmth of that many living things. I feel their plainness rising up to swallow me. I step forward into the stream of beasts.” I love the surrender here- throughout the story we watch as this woman struggles to define her transformation, and, more importantly, her mistake. We see her unable to sleep, haunted by the love she has for her husband and the hurt she has caused in her affair. But in the dark, shame and blame cannot be understood- in fact, she can barely think of these emotions in her life as a deer. She can only feel warmth. This is a story about essence- about that one central question of the human existence- is it worth it? And it’s also a story that says no one fucking knows. There isn’t an answer to the forward march- there’s just these people, these deer here with you, also marching.
In ‘Yellow,’ Hunt plays again with the two perspective model. The story opens with Roy, a 40-something year old man unemployed and living with his parents, ruminating on his failures. He drives through his community, anger and resentment inside of him, and he hits a dog, killing it instantly. Roy carries the dead thing in his arms, unsure of what to do. Eventually, he rings Susanne’s doorbell, a wife and mother alone in the house, the caretaker of Curtains, the dog Roy has just killed. Roy comes into her home, deposits the carcass on her living room floor, and the two almost instantly make love. The confusing situation reads like a bit of an alternate universe, one that has aligned its stars perfectly to free Susanne of her children and husband for exactly this opportunity, this ethereal thing. “People pretend the world is ordinary every day. Because they have to.” After they have finished and Roy gets up to leave, the dog comes back to life, licking and pawing his way throughout the house as if he was never dead. Perplexed, Roy and Susanne become scared, realizing the magnitude of the lust they have just given themselves into. The death of the dog somehow permitted the sex in Susanne’s mind- it had ‘made way for this bit of living,’ and therefore excused the shame such an act carries. But the dog is alive, and thus so is the shame. Susanne instructs Roy to kill the dog, a desperate idea to make the stars align once again. He doesn’t kill the dog; instead, the dog returns to its family, as does Susanne’s husband and children. “By the light of day, under the huge yellow, optimistic sun, Susanne would find it easy to convince herself of anything: marriage is easy, motherhood a snap, and death uncomplicated. But in the dark it was clear to Roy. Susanne sat on the couch, surrounded by her family, while out in the night, partner to the extraordinary, Roy held a shovel made for digging deeper into the dirt.” The line ‘partner to the extraordinary’ turns my blood I love it so much. The dark transforms us, reveals our darkest selves, the ones we hush in the light of the sun.
Another of my favorite stories in the collection, ‘Cortes the Killer,’ shows another woman in the midst of transformation. Beatrice returns to her family home in Pennsylvania, home to her mother and stoner brother Clement (Clem). The family is reunited for Thanksgiving, Beatrice being the one who got away, Clem being the one who stayed. Their mother is a widow, one who confesses to Beatrice for the first time that it was she who decided to pull the plug on the father when he was in the hospital. Beatrice experiences rage against this fact, against her mother, an unexplainable reaction to her mother’s sustained existence: “Beatrice looks away. It is difficult for Beatrice to think of her mother as someone who might have thoughts and desires, as someone who keeps a vibrator in her bedside drawer the way Beatrice does, as someone who might dream about a tremendous ice cube, the size of a sofa, melting in the middle of a hot desert, and wake up having absolutely no idea what the dream means.” Hunt loves this kind of abstraction in her writing- a dream about an ice cube, undefined, defines the story as a whole, each woman experiencing the melting, unsure of what it means. Beatrice’s mother holds an abstract job as well, a sort of marketing agency that utilizes old myths and legends to sell business ideas (hence the story’s title, Cortes being one such myth that the mother gravitates to especially). The family home is on a farm, something Beatrice’s father maintained and that Clem has felt inclined to stay representing. After Thanksgiving dinner, Beatrice and Clem hang out in the barn, a makeshift apartment for Clem, who smokes, plays videogames, and mourns his breakup. Beatrice, a bit drunk, plays Clem’s videogame, the intimacy of childhood attempting to breakthrough these adults. She recommends that the two take Humbletonian, the horse, for a ride in the cold weather. With Clem behind her, Beatrice rides the horse into town, stopping at a Wal-Mart. After brother and sister walk around, they lose the horse, and call after it around the massive Wal-Mart building. At the back, Beatrice finds a huge hole in the pavement, covered by ice and melting ice. The horse attempts to walk over it, finding its way back to the siblings. “She notices the gorgeous ice and dirt and the lovely darkness, thick as felt, existing in this ugly place. She can hear each hoof as it falls against the ice. Beauty stands nearby, a shadowy person whose exhales become Beatrice’s inhales, warming her up. This moment of warmth, this beautiful horse. A jealous hole cracks open in the ice, swallowing the back legs and hindquarters of Humbletonian faster than thought.” Describing this cavity as a ‘jealous hole’ echoes the theme of the story, the overwhelming familiarity that siblings can bring to one another, the awkward reunion of two people so different, yet always the same in the eternity that is childhood. Clem attempts to rescue the horse as it sinks unbelievably lower into the hole, and Beatrice stops him, the insane situation prompting Beatrice to show her rage at her mother: “‘She gave the doctor permission to kill Dad.’ ‘Yeah, I know.’ ‘You know?’ ‘She asked me what I thought before she did it.’ No one asked Beatrice. She sat by her father’s hospital bed for days, rubbing lotion into the dry skin of his calves and feet, and no one said anything to her. ‘No one asked me.’ ‘We already knew what you’d say.’ Since her father’s death, Beatrice’s parents have been two-dimensional pieces of paper she folds up, tucks into her back pocket, and forgets about when she does her laundry, fishing them out of the lint trap later: her mother all things bad, her father all things good. But Clem ruins it every time. There’s Clem, sitting on the ice, shaking his head, saying, ‘It’s no one’s fault, Bea.’ But Beatrice would like to find someone to blame.” I love this story- I love the strange, forced, wanted intimacy of two adult siblings bubbling with trauma and the inability to discuss it. I love the rust-belt cold and the Wal-Mart vibe. This is home for me- it’s me and my younger brother, playing Snowboard Kids on the N64 instead of talking. And again, as in the other stories, there is blame, a heavy weight waiting to be reckoned. An inability to cope with an unreckoning. “Even with the static, she sees a map in front of her, a map of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. She sees that they arrived here at this future rather than a different one. One with horses. Maybe that future would have been better. But they had arrived here to a time when their farm is dead, when Beatrice has moved away to the city, when Clem is stuck in place, and when, most nights, her mother walks down to the end of the driveway, out to meet the incoming tide in Pennsylvania.” The story ends with Bea reaching for the horse, with her brother telling her not to go any farther; “Beatrice dips her hand inside the hole, into a land that is already lost.” Childhood is lost. But we keep coming back to it, keep dipping our greedy, sad hands into it. What else can we do?
In the next story, ‘The House Began to Pitch,’ a third person female narrator, Ada, originally from Rhode Island and now living in Florida, prepares for her first Florida storm. Her neighbor Chuck, a conspiracy theorist, advises her to board her windows, recommending that if she doesn’t leave as the officials have instructed, that she board herself against the water. “If Ada met Chuck up north she would have mistaken him for someone whose favorite book is Helter Skelter, someone who listens to hair metal bands. She would have thought he was someone who wouldn’t care if a bit of scrambled egg fell between the stove and the cabinet. He’d leave it there for years. But here, she likes him. ‘How come people aren’t catatonic with wonder?’ he asked her once when a scarlet ibis walked through the yard on long yellow backward-bent legs.” Ada and Chuck, both middle-aged and alone, sleep together once, something Ada establishes as a mistake. We learn that Ada moved to Florida after the death of her fiance, something that becomes dubious the further into the story we get. A friend calls from Rhode Island, alerting Ada that Henry’s wife is pregnant, and that she didn’t want Ada to hear it from anyone else; who is Henry? Why is he important? As the storm hits, Chuck fights the wind and comes into Ada’s house, angry that she hasn’t evacuated or boarded up. Here Ada lies to Chuck, telling him her fiance was killed by terrorists- it launches Chuck into a tirade, launches Ada into bed with Chuck. “Two people who live their lives alone in rooms doing strange, gentle things can sometimes be together in the middle of a dangerous storm in a house made of glass.” After Ada’s sex, Hunt directs readers to a flashback- an ultrasound of Ada’s blossoming baby, before unknown to us. Ada locks Chuck in her bedroom, tells him through the door that terrorists didn’t kill Henry, but that she did (although we know Henry to be alive from the voicemail). Ada thinks about 9/11, the date she suffered a miscarriage, her own little death, amongst the massive deaths outside. Her small grief went unnoticed- a girl pregnant with a married man who didn’t want her baby. There is deep trauma there, a personal trauma ignored because a deeper, bigger trauma took precedent. “I was her mother,” Ada whispered as the hospital panicked, forgetting her blood and her tears as they watched planes crash into NYC. Back in the storm, with chuck in the bedroom, Ada enters the outside storming world. “The water covers her feet, creeps up her shins. The hurricane above her, big as night. The ground shifting below, Ada stands in the storm. One by one, millions of miniature universes pass her by in the flood, remnants of time and shell and silica. They disappear underneath the house in Florida, no us, no them, but all, each one, going down together.” The togetherness of this ending shows that Ada has, in a way, surrendered to what has happened. She releases her identity, her personal grief- she foregoes the us vs them, the me vs yours, and sees only grief for what grief is, the emotion a downpour, impossible to ignore.
‘Love Machine,’ a sci-fi story, opens with two men, Wayne and Dwight, living in a bunker. These two are in control of releasing nuclear missiles, their fingers always hovering near the button to end the world. The two never do push the button, and Wayne returns to Montana, an old police chief mocked by his younger officers. He’s on the tracks of a murderer, though, a case he hopes will give him credibility. As he watches the woods where he believes the murderer is, Wayne brings a ‘small swatch’ to his nose and inhales, referencing a mysterious ‘her’ who has a battery, who he has made to be a ‘perfect soldier.’ The perspective switches then to Ted, the man living in the woods, the one Wayne suspects to be the murderer. At the door is the ‘she’ Wayne created, a robot full of explosives, ready to go, that appears interested in Ted, asks him questions that a lonely man has never been asked- “he’s surprised and a bit winded by really how few details it can take to make a life and how difficult it is for him, at this minute, to recall how he’s spent his years so far.” Instead of detonating the robot inside of Ted’s home, though, Wayne welcomes her back to his van, instructs her to hold him as she explodes. This is the oddest story to me, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I think I need a few rereads here.
‘A Love Story’ by Hunt may be my new favorite story… ever. It hit me hard. I’m forcing everyone I love to read it. It’s a graceful, calculated story, one that offers insight and question into marriage, into long-term love. A married couple, the wife being the first-person narrator of the story, discuss the threat of coyotes nearby. “My uncle’s so good at imagining things, like a wild dog with a tender baby in its jaws disappearing into the redwoods forever, he makes the imagined things real. ‘It’s what he does, a habit.’ ‘I don’t get it,’ my husband says. But I do. Every real thing started life as an idea. I’ve imagined objects and moments into existence. I’ve made humans. I’ve made things up. I tip taxi drivers ten, twenty dollars every time they don’t rape me.” This last sentence hit me so hard. It still does, each time I think about it. I’ve never read something that so accurately described what it feels like to be a woman living in a rape-cultured world, a woman who is consistently aware of men and their hands, their eyes; women think of rape not secondhand but firsthand, a survival tactic always in the works. Men cannot possibly understand how true that sentence is. Perhaps it even reads as perpetuating rape culture. I don’t know. I just know it’s accurate. The woman, a writer/drug-dealer, a mother, a wife, struggles with unexpressed dread, a dread that spreads from the question(s) of identity. Again Hunt invokes the lyme disease tic-searching storyline for her characters, referencing the narrator’s desire to be touched. “Most men I know speak about sex as if their needs are more intense or deeper than women’s needs. like their penises are on fire and they will die if they can’t extinguish the flames in some damp, tight hole. When I was younger I believed men when they said their desires were more intense than mine because they talked about sex so much through high school and college. I didn’t recognize this talk as a prop of false identity. The men developed entire industries devoted to this desire, this identity. The aches! The suffering of the boys! The shame and mutual responsibility for blue balls. The suffering of the boys. Poor boys, I thought. Poor boys, as if being called upon to serve in a war effort, the war against boys and not getting any. Why do people act like boys can’t be human?” A-fucking-men. Rape Culture, again, defined. Maybe every man who doesn’t understand rape culture should read this story- should have the human identity of humanity spelled out, entitlement not being a part of it. The narrator and her husband haven’t had sex in months, a fact she thinks about often, wondering what the reason could be. She notes: “the first reason, the wildest, craziest reason, is that maybe my husband is just gone. Maybe one night a while back I kicked him out after a fight and maybe, even if I didn’t mean everything I said, maybe he went away and hasn’t come back yet. That would certainly explain why we don’t have sex. Maybe I’m just imagining him here still. It can be hard to tell with men, whether they are actually here or not.” This story is forceful, but not in plot; not much happens. In the first half, the narrator thinks about her roles as a mother and a wife; “We moved out of the city because there’s no room for non-millionaires there anymore. In the country, life is more spacious. We bought a king-sized bed. Some nights we snuggle like people in an igloo, all five of us. Those nights, our giant bed is the center of the universe, the mother ship of bacterial culture. It is populated with blood, breast milk, baby urine, a petri dish of life forms like some hogan of old. Those nights I know we are safe. But when our children sleep in their own room my husband and I are left alone on the vast plain of this oversized bed feeling separate, feeling like ugly Americans who have eaten too much, again.” There is a deep paranoia throughout this story. The woman experiences inability, an inaptitude to protect against the darkness that is human experience in the 21st century. This dread is present in other writers I love, most recently Groff. The narrator continues: “I glimpsed a huge beyond when I became a mother, the enormity of an abyss or the opposite of an abyss, the idea of complete fullness, the anti-death, tiny gods everywhere. But now all that the world wants to hear from me is how I juggle children and career, how I manage to get the kids to eat their veggies, how I lost the weight. I will never lose this weight. When one encounters a mother doing too many things perfectly, smiling as if it is all so easy, so natural, we should feel a civic responsibility to slap her hard across the face, to scream the word ‘Stop! Stop!’ so many times the woman begins to chant or whimper the word along with us. Once she has been broken, take her in your arms until the trembling and self-hatred leave her body. It is our duty. I used to think it was motherhood that loosens a woman’s grasp on sanity. Now I see it is the surplus and affluence of America. Plus something else, something toxic, leaking poison, fear. Something we can’t yet see.” The narrator attempts to discuss this emptiness of womanhood, of society’s inability to understand the multiple identities mothers possess, even after centuries of mothers existing, with Sam, her husband, but nothing ever seems to get through. “‘I think I’m dying.’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘Uh-huh,’ and went back to sleep. Presumably my husband likes stinky cheese and the challenge of living near my hormones. Presumably that’s what love is.” We see the narrator employing her ‘search me for ticks’ trick, feels gratitude as her husband touches her: “Sam switches on a light, picks me over, stopping at each freckle. How lucky am I to know such love, to momentarily remember what it means to have the body of a child, ignorant of age’s humiliation.” As the two lay in bed together (a reoccurring setting in Hunt’s stories), the narrator hears a man coughing outside and becomes frightened. She sends Sam out to inspect, and stays under the covers, afraid. “The uncertain position we all maintain in life asking when will violence strike, when will devastation occur, leaves us looking like the hapless swimmers at the beginning of each Jaws movie. Innocent, tender, and delicious. Our legs tread water, buoyed by all that is right and good and deserved in this world, a house, healthy children, clean food to eat, love. While that animatronic shark, a beast without mercy, catches the scent of blood and locks in on his target.” What a perfect description of dread, of paranoia; of the incredible responsibility women (especially as mothers) feel for the ugliness of the world. “I hold the night the way I would a child who finally fell asleep. Like I’m frightened it will move. I am frightened it will move. I am always scared my life will suffer some dramatic, sudden change. I try to hear deeper, to not shift at all, to not breathe, but no matter how still I stay there’s no report from downstairs. What if Sam is already dead, killed by the intruder? Maybe choked by a small rope around the neck? What if the bad guy, in stocking feet, is creeping upstairs right now, getting closer to my babies, to me? Part of me knows he is. Part of me knows he always is and always will be.” Hunt is an expert at describing dread, that unexplainable feeing of darkness that lingers- but she’s also an expert at distinguishing between human dread and a woman’s dread, that specific darkness that women only are privy to, one that lives in the ovaries, in the after-birth. What comes next is the narrator’s deep interior questioning of her own identity, explorations of other women she might have been, other stories she’s told about herself. “The bedcovers look gray in the dim light of modems and laptops and phones scattered around our bedroom. In this ghost light I am alone. The night asks again, Who are you? Who will you be when everyone who needs you is gone? My children are growing, and when they are done with that I’ll have to become a human again instead of a mother. That is like spirit becoming stone, like a butterfly going to a caterpillar. I’m not looking forward to that. Who are you? The answer is easy in daylight. But the night’s untethering almost always turns me into someone I’m not. I sift through the different women I become in the dark, my own private Greek chorus whispers, shrieks. Where do I keep all these women when the sun is up? Where do they hide, the women who have breached the sanctity of my home, who know things about me so secret even I don’t know these things? Maybe they are in the closet. Maybe they are hiding inside me. Maybe they are me trapped somewhere I can’t get to, like in the DNA markers of my hormones, those mysterious proteins that make me a woman instead of something else, those mysterious proteins no one seems to understand. You may ask, Are these women who bombard me at night real or do I imagine them? You may eventually realize that is a stupid question. I think about fidelity. To Sam, to myself. The light is still gray. The night is still so quiet. I let the women in, an entire parade of them, the whole catalog, spread out on the bed before me. Sam is gone and these women keep me company. These women are women I need to reckon with, even if some of them terrify me. The light is gray and the night is quiet. I let the other women in.” And thus comes the other women, a parade, much like the warm parade of deer from ‘Beast.’ The narrator gives each of them space, each of them a story. Maybe this is a metaphor for womanhood in general, for all of the ways womanhood can be experienced; or maybe it is one woman’s life, spread across the years like a rainbow of paint unnoticed in some back alley. After she tells each of these different stories, she questions again why her husband hasn’t come back to bed. We learn, at the end of the story, that her original guess as to why the two have stopped fucking is actually correct- Sam hasn’t been around. The two have been separated. “Sam’s the man who’s come to chop us up to bits. No wonder I kicked him out. No wonder I changed the locks. If he cannot stop death, what good is he? ‘Open the door. Please. I’m so tired,’ he says. I look at the night that absorbed my life. How am I supposed to know what’s love, what’s fear? ‘If you’re Sam who am I?’ ‘I know who you are.’ ‘You do?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Who?’ Don’t say wife, I think. Don’t say mother. I put my face to the glass, but it’s dark. I don’t reflect. Sam and I watch each other through the window of the kitchen door. He coughs some more. ‘I want to come home,’ he says. ‘I want us to be okay. That’s it. Simple. I want to come home and be a family.’ ‘But I am not simple.’ My body’s coursing with secret genes and hormones and proteins. My body made eyeballs and I have no idea how. There’s nothing simple about eyeballs. My body made food to feed those eyeballs. How? And how can I not know or understand the things that happen inside my body? That seems very dangerous. There’s nothing simple here. I’m ruled by elixirs and compounds. I am a chemistry project conducted by a wild child. I am potentially explosive. Maybe I love Sam because hormones say I need a man to kill the coyotes at night, to bring my babies meat. But I don’t want caveman love. I want love that lives outside the body. I want love that lives.” Yes, that desire to be loved, to love not because it’s necessary, not because one must, but because one wants. The narrator hesitates to open the door, paranoid of the darkness, of the dread, of the possible ways her love can fail, the ways she might be abandoned, let down- “‘In what ways are you not simple?’ I think of the women I collected upstairs. They’re inside me. And they are only a small fraction of the catalog. I think of molds, of the sea, the biodiversity of plankton. I think of my dad when he was a boy, when he was a tree bud. ‘It’s complicated,’ I say, and then the things I don’t say yet. Words aren’t going to be the best way here. How to explain something that’s coming into existence? ‘I get that now.’ His shoulders tremble some. They jerk. He coughs. I have infected him. ‘Sam.’ We see each other through the glass. We witness each other. That’s something, to be seen by another human, to be seen over all the years. That’s something, too. Love plus time. Love that’s movable, invisible as a liquid or gas, love that finds a way in. Love that leaks. ‘Unlock the door,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to love you because I’m scared.’ ‘So you imagine bad things about me. You imagine me doing things I’ve never done to get rid of me. Kick me out so you won’t have to worry about me leaving?’ ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Right.’ And I’m glad he gets that. Sam cocks his head the same way a coyote might, a coyote who’s been temporarily confused by a question of biology versus mortality. What’s the difference between living and imagining? What’s the difference between love and security? Coyotes are not moral. ‘Unlock the door?’ he asks. This family is an experiment, the biggest I’ve ever been part of, an experiment called: How do you let someone in? ‘Unlock the door,’ he says again. ‘Please.’ I release the lock. I open the door. That’s the best definition of love. Sam comes inside. He turns to shut the door, then stops himself. He stares out into the darkness where he came from. What does he think is out there? What does he know? Or is he scared I’ll kick him out again? That is scary. ‘What if we just left the door open?’ he asks. ‘Open.’ And more, more things I don’ts say about the bodies of women. ‘Yeah.’ ‘What about skunks?’ I mean burglars, gangs, evil. We both peer out into the dark, looking for thees scary things. We watch a long while. The night does nothing. ‘We could let them in if they want in,’ he says, but seems uncertain still. ‘Really?’ He draws the door open wider and we leave it that way, looking out at what we can’t see. Unguarded, unafraid, love and loved. We keep the door open as if there are no doors, no walls, no skin, no houses, no difference between us and all the things we think of as the night.” There’s that conclusion again- the surrendering to the Dark Dark, to the unknown and sad and the rage. We open the door even when we’re not sure we want to, not sure if we should. And maybe we should leave it the fuck open- don’t we by now know the darkness will get in anyway?
The collection rounds out with two more stories, which, I admit, I didn’t pay much attention to. Perhaps Hunt didn’t know how effective ‘A Love Story was,’ but I couldn’t focus on anything else afterward. It was too all-encompassing of everything she’d been trying to do in the collection. It’s a powerful finisher. ‘Wampum’ explores youth and sexuality again. ‘The Story Of Of,’ the final story in the collection, is very, very interesting from a craft perspective. Hunt uses the first story from the collection, the one about Norma, and adds further elements, offering different outcomes, a creator showing all of the crossings in and outs, the drafts. Each iteration of the story becomes smaller on the page, sectioned by indentation, like poetry. Again, I’m not sure what this story is doing at the end of the collection, but I found it fascinating and experimental. Maybe I’ll find more to say after my heart calms down over ‘A Love Story.’
I fucking love stories told by women. I love exploring the unanswerable questions, the ones that have been ignored by us for so long- the ones that have been asked in the dark, suffered alone, under the covers, after men have fallen asleep. I want to bask in these stories. And I want to live according to them- not ignoring the darkness but talking to it, questioning it, and sometimes running along beside it.