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Ofelia Hunt

Ofelia Hunt is the author of My Eventual Bloodless Coup (Bear Parade). She lives in Portland, Oregon. This is her first novel.

Blurbs

"This book would like to give you an ice cream, but you will have to get in the van."

– Amelia Gray, author of Museum of the Weird

"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."

– Stacey Levine, author of The Girl With Brown Fur

"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."

– Matthew Simmons, author of A Jello Horse

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Today & Tomorrow

Deep Body Yawns

06/13/11

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?

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13 Comments

  1. Jordan Blum said on 06/13/11 at 11:26 am Reply

    I actually used to pretend to be asleep too when my parents would come downstairs. I think it served two purposes: I had my alone time in my own head, and I eavesdrop on what would be going on if I weren’t around. Perhaps my family would say and do things differently knowing I was unconscious on the sofa. And I do think we surround ourselves with the things we grew up with. I have a drawer filled with old cards (birthday, holiday, etc) from family members, and I look at them from time to time and reflect. I also have some beanie babies and toy cars on my shelves; as a 23 year old guy, I probably shouldn’t, but hey, that was my childhood.

    And I can find all the time alone I need with one word: headphones. Right now, as I type this and listen to “Thick As A Brick” for the millionth time, I am in my own universe. I am Jordan the PA and Jordan the social network zombie; I am not Jordan the son, brother, boyfriend, retail sales person, or anything else. I sometimes stay like this all day and watch the world around me like a movie I CAN participate in but don’t want to.

    Reply

    Mike Young said on 06/13/11 at 12:51 pm

    Yeah, Jordan, I know what you mean about headphones! It’s something so seductive I almost try to avoid it, that feeling of seeing the world as your own personal music video. There’s a funny poem by Heather Christle that goes like this:

    Charge! I said, but nobody
    heard me, because they were all
    listening to their mother, the iPod.
    Their mother said a lot of stuff
    I didn’t hear. Magnificence comes
    in a small car, but we all fit.

  2. yrfriendliz said on 06/13/11 at 11:34 am Reply

    Mike! I love the idea of a little man pretending to fall asleep to be carried to bed. I remember pretending to sleep all the time, and I LOVED being carried to bed. I grew up with a bunch of boys, so I was always lucky to have my own room (my brothers had to share). Though I liked to listen to music and make bad paintings in my room, I also liked that my dad was always outside my door telling me to turn it down. I think that this structure has translated into my adulthood — I have never lived alone and I don’t think I ever will.
    My stepmom tells me that some people recharge by being alone, but I am not one of those people. Being alone makes me anxious. I guess I never thought about it as a structure, but I think shared space is my structure.

    Reply

    Mike Young said on 06/13/11 at 12:54 pm

    Hi, Liz! That’s interesting about your need for shared space to unwind; I totally am one of those people who recharge by being alone. But I also grew up in a very talkative house—we always had talkative media-free dinners and my parents would spend a lot of time just sitting in their recliners talking to each other—and I feel like that might be one reason my being alone involves talking to myself a lot. I think the structures we inherit tend to seep into us in ways we don’t even connect.

    Ofelia Hunt said on 06/13/11 at 10:03 pm

    I don’t know that this relates, but re: living alone. I shared a bedroom with two brothers and a sister in my preteen/teens and when I first lived alone I had trouble sleeping. I felt cavernous/hollow/loud/quiet. There were not enough sounds

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/13/11 at 10:15 pm

    I have something oddly related, too — when I’m alone in a house I also need sound. And I can’t sleep in bed. Whatever the reason, I have to sleep on the couch.

    ydde said on 06/15/11 at 12:43 pm

    I didn’t sleep in a bed till I was sixteen and my parents kind of forced me to stop sleeping on the living room floor. I suppose it’s a good thing, sleeping on beds, but I still prefer floors, so long as it’s not hardwood.

    And noise, man, can’t live without it and have never been able to sleep without music or the babble of television.

    Ofelia Hunt said on 06/15/11 at 9:48 pm

    Yeah, I slept on the floor from 14-16, about, and got very used to it. Still like to sometimes.

  3. darby said on 06/13/11 at 2:13 pm Reply

    the narrator in T&T is fascinating to read. i’m about halfway through the book. i agree there is something about how the chapters are ended. the one i’m thinking of, maybe because i just read it recently was the narrator and merna on the roof i think, and the narrator’s cellphone rings and merna doesn’t want her to answer it, like she just wants to spend some time with her sister on the roof, then the narrator says “i’m sorry” and answers it. i thought that was a really tender moment amidst all the chaos of the book. like even though it was mean, her struggling with whether she should answer it, and the sympathetic “I’m sorry” felt to me that she is capable of real sympathy. anyway, really enjoying this book so far. -d

    Reply

    Mike Young said on 06/13/11 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Darby! Yeah, that’s a great moment. And Merna is such an interesting character/foil. Her combination of impatience and sympathy, her bewilderment with the narrator and her trying to be tender, her trying to convince the narrator that people are actually real.

  4. ydde said on 06/15/11 at 12:49 pm Reply

    I grew up with two brothers and a sister and finding time to be alone could be very difficult, especially because everyone in my family was trying to do that. It’s strange to me, whenever I think about my family, it’s not us sitting together but me wandering through the house trying to find an empty room, so I’d usually go outside and sit in a tree or lie in the grass with my dog. She was the only person I ever really wanted to be next to me and she’s the only family member I miss.

    I think the desire to be alone and a way to find that is why I’ve always slept so little. The only time I got to be alone was when everyone went to sleep and it made me so happy that, even as a little boy, I’d be up all night just creating the world in my head and projecting it on the walls. Until I was ten, I shared a room and bunkbed with my two brothers, with my older brother on the topbunk. He thought I slept with my eyes open because whenever he’d look down at me I’d be wide awake but not moving. The same is kind of true through university, too, but at least I had my own room, typically, though most of them were only big enough to fit my bed.

    Reply

    Mike Young said on 06/16/11 at 12:01 am

    Yeah, I totally hear you on the connection between being alone and not sleeping. When everybody else has gone to bed, that’s when the world is really yours, even if it’s a little dark.

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/16/11 at 12:17 am

    Love that — about the world really being yours when everybody else has gone to bed. I stay up through the night a lot, and while my favorite part is the silence, I also like the part when people start to wake up, when the world gets a little louder, a little brighter.

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