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."
Tornadoes are gone, Megabus drivers are friendly, and here we are in America with NPR and ESPN and Powerpoints and naked deck lounging and kittens. Let’s talk about the first chapter of Today & Tomorrow, which introduces us to the hypnotic narrative voice we’ve been talking about.
J.A. Tyler, in a review of T&T over at Monkeybicycle talks about birthdays and violence:
Today & Tomorrow begins with the narrator’s twentieth birthday, an occasion for excitement and yet laced fear, focusing on how we attempt to let go of our youth, how we try to embrace our aging, a journey that the book violently pulls us through like an uncontrolled body over coral reefs, a juxtaposition of beauty and limb-scarring.
In the first chapter we’re introduced to this youth and violence that Tyler is talking about. We listen to the narrator imagine her neighbor catching her naked, and we get clued into her tangential daydreaming propulsion. We learn that she hasn’t spoken to her sister, Merna, in four years. We drift back in time to a kitchen with Merna, where the narrator admires Merna’s kitten (“Your kitten’s so pretty I could just pull her eyes out and roll them along the kitchen floor”) and watches Merna dry dishes. And the narrator can’t seem to settle on whether she likes the kitchen or not. On one hand, she can imagine “days of lovely waiting in the kitchen, drying dishes, stacking them in cupboards, lining cupboard-shelves with rose-scented shelf-paper.” On the other hand, she sees some sort of violence in the way Merna dries, and she doesn’t like it:
“The plates were white and clean with the tiniest bubbles of water huddling away from her rag and my sister was merciless as she carefully wiped every part of every plate and obliterated each tiny perfect bubble and slowly set each plate in its proper stack in the cupboard next to the refrigerator. I hated her plates then, her bubble-obliterating rag, her stupid silly kitten.”
At the end of the chapter, after we’ve been lulled by the voice, we are startlingly introduced to this narrator’s brutality and wobbly sense of reality:
“I cocked the kitten. The kitten was heavy. The kitten was cocked and I flung it and it moved slowly, sprawl-legged toward the window and the window shivered in anticipation and Merna and I gasped and there was a loud sound I can’t describe but was both wonderful and terrible and the kitten bounced and moved slowly toward the sink, its tiny legs stretched out oddly, at angles, as though disconnected from its round furry body.”
One funny thing about T&T is we never learn the narrator’s name, but we unmistakably experience the world through her. Even when we’re aghast and want to pull back, she’s our only way in. One thing that seems true is that everybody needs to tell their story, and another thing that seems true is that the more stories we hear the less the world is apt to swallow us with its strangeness, its distances and indifference. Right away, from the strange phrasing of the “sun’s sunlight’s” to the “little bits of dust moving and interacting with other dust-bits,” to the “tiniest bubbles of water huddling away” from Merna’s dishrag, and finally to the kitten’s “tiny legs stretched out oddly, at angles,” we meet a narrator obsessed with the intricate holding together that goes on.
It might be a cliche to throw out the idea that violence reminds us of fragility, and that an obsession with violence is really an obsession with testing, a fascination with finding breaking points. One thing about cute things is that they are often defined by the damage we could do to them (e.g. “you’re so cute I could eat you up!”), and one of the things I find so fascinating about T&T is the way this unnamed narrator navigates her own desire to be both fragile and terrible.
Do I “relate” to this? Do I “relate” to the violence? I’m not sure I know what that really means, but I know I feel something. I know—right away from the first chapter—that this book is going to open me up to the world in a way I don’t usually—you know, for safety’s everyday sake—allow myself. It’s funny to remember—even when we’re talking here—that we read by ourselves, and it’s interesting to picture yourself nestling into your eyes and holding the book and reading about kitten tossing on the train, in a park, where somebody might glance and see Bill Murray’s face on the cover but have no real idea the kind of re-wiring you’re privately allowing yourself to experience.
So what do you think of this violence in T&T? What did you feel when you read how the kitten came apart? Did you find yourself alienated by the description, did you find yourself re-calibrating? Has reading ever really shocked you? Isn’t shock more about framing than body count? Why is a kitten “cute?” Why do I think “hypnotizing” is such a good word to describe T&T? Does T&T remind you of Kathy Acker? Do you want to see a really terrifying clip from Ofelia Hunt’s favorite movie (warning, strange and R-rated)? What does it mean to be “de-sensitized?” Is sensitivity a matter of realization? To be surprised by what we’re capable of sensing? Those lovely different bubbles and the wonderful and terrible sound of the pop.