Ofelia Hunt is the author of My Eventual Bloodless Coup (Bear Parade). She lives in Portland, Oregon. This is her first novel.
"This book would like to give you an ice cream, but you will have to get in the van."
"The ironic is a mere ancient whisper in this torqued narrative: its odd violence feels true. Today & Tomorrow crashes through the windows of strip malls and paints the hypertrophic aisles with bristly-creepy hilarity."
"Ofelia Hunt is the balladeer of the doe-eyed detrivores of over-stimulation. Within Today & Tomorrow, readers find the fried and the frayed nerves in the youth of the Hyperworld. All will be well, America, as long as the rims keep spinning and Hunt keeps writing."
In the early chapters of T&T, as we joyride along with our narrator and her boyfriends, slashing dresses into triangles and harassing AM/PM clerks, bickering with Aaron (“You can be my assistant, you know, assist me.”) and Erik/Todd (“Have you ever been to Wal-Mart? Do you know how big it is, how full? I organized fucking everything.”), we eventually end up at a house, which the narrator promises they’re going to rob (“Home-invasion”) but which turns out to be her old house where her grandparents live. We also learn, through the narrator’s wandering memories, about her sisters and her family. For today’s blog post, I want to talk about families. Here’s a passage from the end of Chapter 7 where the narrator remembers about an old family trip:
I think about the rusty minivan, about backseats and Anastasia and Merna and the seatbelts and crisscrossing the seatbelts and the knees, exposed knees in the summer, bumping together, and the wind from the window-crack and the very warm very yellow sunlight through the window and the relaxing just before with sleepy eyes and deep body-yawns in late afternoon. We drove through the Rockies to Montana when I was ten or twelve. Mother at the wheel, Father sleeping quietly in the front passenger-seat. Merna read to Anastasia from teen-magazines—manicures, dating, how to tease your bangs, how to be beautiful. I let my head flop to the side and sat very still and made my eyes flutter then close and stopped my breathing and waited for my sisters to shake me.
“Don’t,” Anastasia said.
“She’s dead.” Merna pushed me. “She’s really dead now. People just die like that sometimes. The speed’s too much for their brains.” I didn’t react, but remained very still, allowing Merna’s pushes to move me slackly until I flopped over Anastasia’s lap.
“See, she’s dead,” Merna said. “Anastasia, you killed her.”
“Stop,” Anastasia said.
Later we pulled into a gas-station and I hid behind the backseat, beneath our backpacks and tents and travel gear. I made myself still and quiet and relaxed and smelled the tent and sleeping bags, the cooler, the stuffed backpacks that smelled of mold and mildew and dirt. I wanted then to smell that way, to lie quietly in the unmoving wetness of those smells. This is probably what death smells like, I thought. Nobody’ll ever find me here, I thought. I waited for Merna to uncover me, for Mother or Father to search me out, to remove carefully the sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, to stack them outside in the parking-lot, and to find me curled up and sleepy and cold. For Anastasia to say quietly, “Stop,” and to cry then in Merna’s lap. I could hug them, could sprawl my body over their bodies, could wait passively to be moved from one somewhere to another. The tents did not move. The sleeping bags remained still. I woke there later, beneath the tent, beneath the sleeping bags, the backpacks. I was cold and wet, hearing only the rough vibration of the van over concrete.
In a family (even a small family) it’s hard to find the space to be alone, and especially harder to find a place to nestle into where we can be still. This passage reminds me of two things, and I’m not sure how related they are, but I think they relate in some weird way to do with a relationship to giving ourselves up, giving ourselves over: 1) When I was very young, my family would sit out in the living-room while my mother read to all of us. Often I would pretend to fall asleep so my father could carry me to bed. He knew I was pretending, and he made a big production of the carrying in a fun way. 2) A friend of mine organizes his bookshelves by alphabet and color, and it’s hypnotizing how perfect it is. It makes me either want to slide myself in the right slot or knock everything down, mess it all up.
Chapters in T&T rollick along with their chaos, but they often end on achingly beautiful depictions of precarious setups or feelings, the idea of trying to capture things where they landed. I’m interested in what we might have to say about the way Hunt ends chapters, and I’m interested in what we might have to say about families. Because I think these too are related in some weird way I can’t quite put my finger on. T&T’s narrator seems to cocoon herself between her two boyfriends the way she used to cocoon herself between her two sisters, and she often finds herself trying and failing to linger at moments where she can surrender to what she’s surrounded by: curled up, sleepy, waiting “passively to be moved from one somewhere to another.” Do we keep ourselves surrounded by the structures we grew up with? How do we ever find room to be alone with our families? With their memories? With our obligations to the people we love?