INDIANA, INDIANA: (the dark and lovely portions of the night)

Laird Hunt, Author
Laird Hunt, Author . Coffee House $20 (200p) ISBN 978-1-56689-144-8
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Hunt's second novel attempts an update of various Faulknerian conceits: spooky rurality; the eros, time displacements and explosive violence of feeblemindedness; omniscient prose that tries to be rather than to tell the story. An addled and simple middle-aged man, Noah Summers lacks the sophistication to hold a job as a mail carrier or read the Bible. At various points, he buries a grandfather clock in the yard, compares God to dough and confronts a strange peddler who plays music on a saw. But the novel's focus is Noah's relationship with a disturbed woman, Opal, who becomes his "wife" (though they are not married in a church), and eventually ends up in a mental hospital after the house they share burns down suspiciously, killing Noah's parents. Despite the wandering, elliptical nature of the scenes and the occasional macabre imagery they contain, Hunt keeps the third-person prose steadying and gently reflective of Noah's consciousness: "But now it is still dark outside. And it is cold. Noah holds his hands in front of the fire until they are hot, then pulls them away and covers his face." Veering into short, embedded quotation, (imagined?) letters back and forth between Opal and Noah, dreams, and long disquisitions on the nature of life from Noah's father (with the equally portentous name of Virgil), Hunt (The Impossibly) manages shifts of perspective and time ably, but can't get them to yield a satisfying complexity. Given that what Greil Marcus called "the old, weird America" has been endlessly worked up, many of the intended quirks here feel deeply familiar, but Hunt's passion for imagining its stubborn remnants comes through clearly. (Sept.)

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