Kind One
A Novel
Laird Hunt
(Coffee House Press)
Ginestra is fourteen years old when her mother's cousin comes to visit them in Indiana and she flirts and he likes it and soon enough she is Mrs. Linus Lancaster and he takes her back to Albatross, Kentucky with him.

He made the farm and the farm house sound like paradise --- they continue to call it "paradise" --- but it is nothing but a pig-farm on a few acres which may be anything but paradise. Especially after Linus commences "to have" Ginny in the evenings and again in the mornings, plus going after two slaves in between, the even younger Cleome and Zinnia

Linus isn't much in the sensitivity department: he kicks Ginny and once when she tried to sing he socked her in the face. Ginny takes out her frustrations on Cleome and Zinnia by knocking them around as well. It's not much of a fun house there on the pig farm just outside Albatross, Kentucky.

§   §   §

Kind One is written in what we might call period prose and since the period is pre-Civil War America and as Ginny tells the story she uses images that are a little weird so the reader cannot always so sure of the facts. This is Linus beating one of the slaves: "He tied Alcofibras to the oak tree by the barn and whipped him until his back was a sheet of crimson cloth."

    As the whipping went on you could hear pigs they hadn't sold off at it in the dusk light at the corners of everything, and out over the field you could see tornadoes of evening birds harrowing the insects ... When Alcofibras was dead of the crimson cloth on his back, Linus Lancaster had Horace and Ulysses carry him out to the wood for the pigs we had been hearing.

Ginny's thoughts after that episode speak volumes, and --- at least to this reader --- are elegant and subtle:

    That night as I lay there in my room while Linus Lancaster paid his visits I couldn't conjure up any daisy fields. I couldn't conjure up any castles in the clouds or lemonade. I couldn't see my way back to my father's house with its goose pond and my corner bed. It was just lengths of red rope, rope that shouldn't be moving, rope untouched that was slithering over walls and windows, filling my mouth and apron pockets, wrapping field and flower, tree and bush, bird and pig.

This is a tough book to tackle and only reveals its secrets on a close (or second) reading. The best word I can think of for it is "gnarly." It bends back on itself, with a language that is strange, often beautifully so.

After Linus is murdered (we only find out who murdered him towards the end of Kind One) Ginny becomes slave to the two slaves Cleome and Zinnia. They keep Ginny in the kitchen with the body of Linus sitting dead, his head on the table slowly turning to mush after "the rats had found their way in at him." The two of them call her "Mother" and she refers to them as "my children" and when they take her outside to beat her, they tell her "The woods will eat all that hollerin, Mother" and "You can cry out those tears later, Mother" and then they chain her in the shed and bring her bowls of water and when she reaches for them they kick them over. It's all very baroque and somewhat obscure and at times Ginny will go off on a fantasy trip, viz: "down that lane my figment self would trot."

I am fond of obscurantist writing and have spent many happy hours puzzling over Faulkner or Joyce or Beckett but there are times here when the obscurity distracts from the plot. Ginny goes off with the ghost of Linus Lancaster to "drape the World in gold and purple" and to do Shakespeare where Ginny says "I am King Lear" and then:

    I stepped around the stage. I gave the fresh planks some whacks with my foot, I said some of my lines from farther along...

I have to admit at this point in the book I am somewhat fuddled.

The drama in the parts we can figure out is potent enough. Perhaps when I get up the nerve to tackle it again for my third reading I will be able to figure out what Ginny means when she tells us about seeing the ghost of Alcofibras the slave who was beaten to death and when she sees him he "dances" for her lifting up "his gangle legs and twisted his arms and the light from his eyes lit up every bit of him."

    His knees went up either side higher than his head and the pink soles of his feet slapped back down on the ground. There wasn't any music to it beside those pink soles slapping the cold ground ... and as I looked an eye the size of a saucer opened up in the middle of his shoulders then closed, and he turned and pulled his shawl back down and smiled at me.

Hunt is an obviously a talented writer despite his occasional spasms of literary mystery like this. I see from the various reviews that he is travelling around to different venues giving readings and maybe I might figure out a way to fly off to Boulder next weekend so I can sit in on one of these readings and at a pause in the proceedings can ask what it means when a slave who has been whipped to death suddenly rises from the grave to appear dancing and smiling with an eye the size of a saucer set in the middle of his back.

--- Nancy Redding
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