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Laird Hunt. Kind One.

Laird Hunt. Kind One. Coffee House Press, 2012. 213 pp. Paper: $14.95.

This novel begins with an "Overture" that cuts the legs right out from under you, and it is as devastating a piece of writing as anything one is likely to find in contemporary literature. Laird Hunt conjures up a world where movement is most often vertical, either up or down, and where people dig graves for others who haven't yet died. We are in our very own heartland here, in Kentucky and Indiana, from the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, and it is a very tenebrous place indeed. Its currencies are crudely wielded force, oppression, cruelty, prejudice, and the joyless revenge that necessarily attends them. Suffering is endless and irremediable. Those who are called upon to bear that suffering will eventually inflict it on others in their turn. The protagonist is Ginny Lancaster, married at fourteen to a man who preferred her mother, widowed at twenty by a stroke that many will approve. Thereafter she is known as "Scary Sue," first because of her scars both visible and invisible, then because of the lesson she embodies in the minds of god-fearing folk. It is she who speaks for the most part, and her language is hieratic and incantational, as if her story were to be intoned, rather than merely spoken. For a world such as this one tests the power of mere speech. Individuals come back from the dead as if naturally here. Their bodies sprout supplemental mouths, the better to wail, and additional eyes, to gaze and accuse. Amputated limbs come back as well--but not necessarily to the people from whom they were severed in the first instance. Other specters wander through these pages. One thinks of Faulkner for the unblinking critique of American myth. Yet Gombrowicz also comes to mind, because of the absolute strangeness of things. Kind One can certainly be read as an account of where we've been, but one can also see in it a parable of where we are, right now, as we try to rid ourselves of some of the ghosts that haunt us. [Warren Motte]

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Author:Motte, Warren
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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