July 19, 2010
I didn’t meet Lindsay Hunter; so much as her fiction ran me over. She’s part of theFeatherproof posse, and I’m partial to most everything that goes on over there. I asked Lindsay if she’d be interested in taking part in our When We Fell in Love essay and she jumped at the chance. In September of this year her first novel Daddy’s will be published by Featherproof Books.
When We Fell in Love – Lindsay Hunter
From the beginning I read everything I could get my hands on. I remember in kindergarten fingering the dried, obelisk-shaped booger stuck to a page in Freckle Juice; I remember—wanting to emulate my father reading the newspaper—reading the comics on the toilet; I remember reading with terror about Baba Yaga and her traveling cauldron and her chickenleg hut in these musty books we had in the fancy bookcase in the fancy living room (not to be confused with the run-of-the-mill bookcase in the run-of-the-mill family room).
In fifth grade my class read Sideways Stories from Wayside High by Louis Sachar, a book I chalked up to a nightmare I had (the hidden 13th floor!) until one day embarrassingly recently when I decided to Google what words I could remember from the title and realized it wasn’t a nightmare, it was real, and tons of other kids had read it and were perfectly fine with it.
In middle school I opened the book my dad had apparently been reading in the bathroom and it was bookmarked to an incredibly real, no-frills account of two characters having boredom sex in an un-air conditioned motel room. At one point, their two sweaty stomachs slap together and smash a mosquito. I read that scene again and again until one day I looked and the book was no longer in the bathroom.
Around that time I read Crystal by Walter Dean Myers three times in a row, and then a suite of V.C. Andrews books. I was hooked on V.C. Andrews—you could get them anywhere you went back then. I remember finding the next installment in the Cutler family drama in the grocery store paperback aisle and trying not to let on that it might not exactly be in the vein of Laura Ingalls Wilder when I asked my mother if I could have it.
Reading was pure entertainment for me. It was adventure, discovery, private horror, and then the re-reading of private horror. These books were answering questions about the world that I didn’t even know were okay to ask. And maybe they weren’t.
And then. In eighth grade I read Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle. I checked out the beige hardcover with the simple Ferris wheel illustration from the library and brought it home. I read it, I devoured it. This was a book written to entertain on a different level than what I was used to. Or maybe it was that I was maturing, more able to notice and appreciate language and imagery as well as plot. Whatever it was, Ferris Beach became my favorite book. At one point, the main character, Kate, is in darkness outside her house, able to see but not be seen (and if memory serves she is watching her mother in the kitchen), and has this sudden primal need to remember the moment somehow, to mark it, and she begins to dig around until she finds a plastic flower petal, which she will keep to remember. I was astonished. I’d felt that exact urge many times before. McCorkle had written a world I recognized and could relate to, and this was often painful. But also, irresistible. (In college I saw Jill McCorkle read and then tearfully asked her to sign my worn copy ofFerris Beach. She was wearing bright red Hush Puppies and I thought, That’s what a writer looks like, I guess.)
Over the years I’ve come upon books that I’ve felt that same immediate bond with—I read Infinite Jest with a pen so I could underline all the lines I loved and have a lion head in my bathroom to commemorate “And who could not love that special and leonine roar of a public toilet?”; I recently read Why Did I Ever and then held and stared at the book for a while after finishing; I read The Stones of Summer and applied to graduate school because it made me realize there was work to be done; I read Blood Meridian and realized the work would never end.
Whenever I ask myself why I write, why I even try, I automatically think of how reading has the capacity to make me feel—how it accesses this completely private, beyond-words well of emotions that is exhilarating to experience, even if it’s painful. And I’m reminded that I write because I want to make people feel, too. I want readers to recognize themselves in the words, to form a bond with the story, to feel anger, shock, arousal, joy.
All this to say that I think my writing is just as informed by the paperback aisle in the grocery store as it is by the literature aisle in the used bookstore. As a writer, I want to surprise and entertain (myself as well as my readers) in the language, imagery, voice—just as I sought and continue to seek books that do that for me.