Laird Hunt’s writing consistently consigns existential dread into the service of narratives that read the way blindfolded roller-coaster rides might feel. Memory, in this metaphor, would be the tracks of the coaster; its fallibility, its power over us, weaves in and out of all of Hunt’s novels. Kind One takes the ride into Southern gothic territory–1800s Kentucky, to be precise–and the “gothic” here finds romance and horror occupying the same space.
Kind One is not the kind of historical fiction that comes with period appropriate props and full stage settings. It’s minimal, immersive, and utterly compelling. Hunt never lets the reader get distracted or lets the intensity become diffused. For the real subject here is violence – violence that manifests itself as a Lear-like rage against Life itself.
LAIRD HUNT’S FICTION lends an ominous tint to the familiar. A pair of running shoes is revealed as a sinister advisor; the act of eating herring becomes laced with barely sublimated violence; a feather duster is transformed into an instrument of torture when placed in the right hands. A straightlaced narrator in an unnamed city turns out to be an agent hiding at the bidding of a nefarious organization; a statue of a woman hides reservoirs of grief in her stillness; a narrator shuffles his own timeline in order to dodge the consequences of his actions.
“Laird Hunt’s Kind One, about two slave girls who take their white mistress into captivity, is a profound meditation on the sexual and racial subconscious of America. Nothing is sacred here. Savagery begets savagery. Women commit unspeakable violence, wives are complicit in their husband’s crimes, slave girls learn to be as cold and brutal as the masters who have raped and whipped them. Of course the center cannot hold. We watch it crumble with breath held, skin tingling, in this gorgeous and terrifying novel.”
Danzy Senna, author of Caucasia
“Opening with a prologue in the form of an extraordinarily beautiful meditation on loss, Hunt’s writing deepens into allegory, symbolism and metaphor, all while spinning forth a dark tale of abuse, incest and corruption reminiscent of Faulkner . . . Profoundly imaginative, strikingly original, deeply moving.”
“[A]n unforgettable tale of the savagery of antebellum America . . . Hunt deftly maintains an unsettling tone and a compelling narrative that will linger with readers long after the last page.”
“[W]hat puts Kind One firmly in the category of good Southern writing . . . is its quietly gripping language. Hunt is a writer who, to steal a phrase from Allan Gurganus, is ‘still loyal at the level of the sentence.’”
“[Kind One is] Laird Hunt’s haunting meditation on the crushing legacy of slavery in the American South . . . Yet the book’s small acts of kindness and mercy—bright beacons in the night—never go out, shining their faint light on the endurance of the human spirit.”
“Kind One is a major achievement for Hunt . . . in its study of perpetuation of violence, it calls to mind Faulkner’s structures by way of Albert Camus and the dark dreamscapes of Jean Cocteau.”
“There is always a surprise in the voice and in the heart of Laird Hunt’s stories—with its echoes of habit caught in a timeless dialect, so we see the world he gives us as if new. ‘You hear something like that and it walks out the door with you.’”
“At times poignant and acerbic, The Impossibly almost reads like a commentary on Flann O’Brien’s classic The Third Policeman. As opposed to so much disposable fiction so shamelessly promoted these days, Laird Hunt is clearly a writer who has undergone a long apprenticeship in the intricate art of actually making sentences. The care and delight he takes in every word, from pronoun to article, definite or indefinite, offers the reader a rare and precise pleasure.”
“Simultaneously a compellingly elusive roman noir and an eccentric meditation on the nature of perception, The Impossibly reads like it was written by the bastard child of Dashiel Hammett and a distracted but brilliant professor of abstract mathematics. The Impossibly is a stylish and heady novel, which takes the philosophical detective story onto entirely new, and delightfully unstable, ground. It is one of the few good things to happen to the genre’s development in America since Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.”
“Laird Hunt’s “The Impossibly” proves some difficult things.
It proves that just because you love genre fiction, it doesn’t mean you have to be bound by its conventions when writing it. And it proves that just because you don’t fully understand something doesn’t mean you can’t like it.
And “The Impossibly” is a sometimes maddening book, with a narrator who at times you want to sit down on a hard-backed chair and shake a few times until he starts making some kind of sense.
But it’s also incredibly funny and well-written and oddly touching, and certainly unlike anything else you’ve read this year.
The main character works for some kind of shadowy organization, possibly an espionage agency or some kind of organized crime syndicate, whose business involves the sending and retrieving of packages, the interrogation of witnesses, and occasionally the elimination of enemies.
The narrator’s place in this world seems shaky. At one level he seems happy to please, at another he seems like he’d be better off running his bakery. He accepts a job for his employers to deliver a package, then decides not to do it. And then he changes his mind again and mails it, only to the wrong address.
In the meantime, he heads on a less-than-peaceful vacation with a mysterious woman who collects objects – staplers, hole-punchers, etc. – and another couple identified as John and Deau. As you can tell by pronouncing their names, their identity and role in the narrator’s life is kept pretty murky.
When he returns, he’s subjected to interrogations from his employers, and eventually, it seems, targeted for elimination himself. Ultimately, the book descends into paranoia as the narrator tries to sort out who he can and can’t trust, and who has been given the assignment of killing him.
In form and tone, “The Impossibly” resembles Jonathan Lethem’s recent mystery novel, “Motherless Brooklyn,” in which the story was told from the point of view of a sleuth suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. Similarly, the reader sees the world of “The Impossibly” through the heavy filters of the narrator’s viewpoint – in fact, it seems we see more of the narrator’s interior life and thoughts, with the outside world occasionally peeping in through the cracks.
His thoughts are intriguing, and also quite funny, as he tends to think and overthink even the simplest of interactions. “I am not suspicious by nature,” he tell us. “In fact, I am not very much at all, I’ve concluded, by nature.” Elsewhere, he describes walking down the street with a woman, and then suddenly being behind himself at the same time, so that when the couple veers into a restaurant, his second self keeps walking along until he falls into a ditch.
When you think of a story of a first-person narrator besieged by a world that seems out to get him, Franz Kafka’s name springs immediately to mind. But Hunt’s world is altogether more internal, and more amusing, than Kafka’s totalitarian parallels.
It will be only the most diligent and insightful reader who finishes “The Impossibly” with every question answered. Which is fine, because it would actually be disappointing to have every loose end tied at the end of this remarkable, confusing novel. Then there’d be almost no point in going back to read it and enjoy it again.”
The Capitol Times
“Every once in a long while, you discover a novel unlike anything else you’ve ever read. Laird Hunt’s debut is one of them. Innovative, comic, bizarre and beautiful, The Impossibly reads as if Donald Barthelme were channeling Alain Robbe-Grillet, Samuel Beckett, Ben Marcus and reruns of Get Smart. Somewhere in a northern European city, an unnamed narrator works for an ominous concern called “the organization.” When the narrator fumbles a job by putting the wrong address on a package, he is “disaffirmed.” Mysteriously afflicted, he unravels lightheartedly, suffering memory lapses, clubbings and a sort of existential aphasia as he drifts through an increasingly shadowy universe flickering with potential violence and madness, where no one’s identity – let alone”reality” itself – is constant. Meticulously imprecise and contradictory, The Impossibly is an extraordinary novel of interstices, non-sequiturs and not knowing – a sprightly, menaced thing.”
Time Out New York
“…as dark and mysterious as its title.”
“…stylish, if opaque, noir.”
“The state of new fiction is as robust and diverse as ever, and exploding with character, if Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity and Laird Hunt’s The Impossibly are any measure.The Impossibly is first and foremost a story rooted in character. In this case, a single character unlike any I’ve yet encountered.
This first novel of paranoia and, in an odd way, yearning, also is probably one of the funniest and strangest books I’ve read in a long while. I’ll confess, I’m not entirely sure I understood it and yet I was oddly moved by it. In the end, The Impossibly is a novel of thoughts. “I was told once in a big bed in the countryside by the woman I loved that what made it always so difficult, all of it, was to be an interior in a world of exteriors,” the nameless man muses. We never quite know what “it” is, and yet, of course, we do.”
St. Petersburg Times
“In fresh, inventive prose, the delightfully and maddeningly equivocal narrator of The Impossibly, Laird Hunt’s first novel, indirectly relates his circuitous story. He is some sort of freelance criminal, but, by inviting the reader into select minute details of his life, the narrator keeps the specifics out of focus until, incrementally, he reveals his line of work, the danger he risks and the duplicity of nearly all his acquaintances.”
‘murky’, ‘obscure’, ‘hazy’, ‘hallucinatory’, ‘difficult’, ‘frustrating’,’incomprehensible’, ‘intriguing’
“Shiftless and broke, thieving drifter Henry gets involved with a gang of faux assassins in Hunt’s intensely cerebral third novel. Written in an intentionally mystifying fashion (“Falsification,” says one character, “sits at the center of everything”), the novel, set in a shell-shocked post 9/11 Manhattan, alternates between two narratives: in one, Henry joins a group, led by the mysterious Mr. Kindt, that stages fake murders for money; in the other, Henry resides in a psychiatric hospital, where Mr. Kindt visits him daily and encourages him to earn money by stealing pharmaceuticals. In both story lines, Henry tries unsuccessfully to sort through layers of deception to learn about Kindt’s past. It is possible that Henry’s life as a fake hired gun is imagined during his hospital stay; it is equally possible that both lives are occurring simultaneously, as Hunt makes obfuscation one of his chief objectives. A wan love interest develops with tattoo artist Tulip (an echo of the hospital’s Dr. Tulp), but it is mostly motivated by Henry’s desire to discover why Tulip would want to “tussle” with him. This noir labyrinth captures the post-9/11 gestalt of anxiety and hopelessness.”
Laird Hunt is an extraordinary writer, and here he has made an unnerving and beautiful world with nothing but some scraps of the familiar and fresh language. The Exquisite lingers like a dream you wish you could have again and again, and you can, because it’s not a dream, it’s an entrancing and highly exacting piece of fiction.Laird Hunt is an extraordinary writer, and here he has made an unnerving and beautiful world with nothing but some scraps of the familiar and fresh language. The Exquisite lingers like a dream you wish you could have again and again, and you can, because it’s not a dream, it’s an entrancing and highly exacting piece of fiction.Laird Hunt is an extraordinary writer, and here he has made an unnerving and beautiful world with nothing but some scraps of the familiar and fresh language. The Exquisite lingers like a dream you wish you could have again and again, and you can, because it’s not a dream, it’s an entrancing and highly exacting piece of fiction.Laird Hunt is an extraordinary writer, and here he has made an unnerving and beautiful world with nothing but some scraps of the familiar and fresh language. The Exquisite lingers like a dream you wish you could have again and again, and you can, because it’s not a dream, it’s an entrancing and highly exacting piece of fiction.Laird Hunt is an extraordinary writer, and here he has made an unnerving and beautiful world with nothing but some scraps of the familiar and fresh language. The Exquisite lingers like a dream you wish you could have again and again, and you can, because it’s not a dream, it’s an entrancing and highly exacting piece of fiction.Laird Hunt is an extraordinary writer, and here he has made an unnerving and beautiful world with nothing but some scraps of the familiar and fresh language. The Exquisite lingers like a dream you wish you could have again and again, and you can, because it’s not a dream, it’s an entrancing and highly exacting piece of fiction.
“His novels are smart and refreshing and genuinely unusual. He’s a seeker, in the best literary sense. He’s looking for and finding vivid language and forms, ways to write what he sees and understands about his and our weird, fortunate, and troubled lives and times.”
“Strange, original, and utterly brilliant-Laird Hunt is one of the most talented young writers on the American scene today.”