Laird Hunt, "The Face"


Welcome to December. To kick off the 2017 Short Story Advent Calendar, here's a story about crime, punishment, and proper squatting posture from the author of Neverhome and The Evening Road.

How would you describe your story?

LAIRD HUNT: “The Face” is a frame story in which the frame (a teenage boy raking leaves on an autumn day in 1980s Indiana) takes on increasing importance as the tale progresses. Both parts of the story involve aloneness and ways to recognize and mitigate it. Two people—one young, one old—talking next to an outdoor fire on a chilly night… it’s a story about gaps and bridges across the chasm of time.

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

LH: This was one of the earliest stories in a project started 7 or 8 years ago that combines fiction and autobiography to varying degrees. Some of the stories in the collection are almost all fiction with a drop or two of autobiography and some are just the opposite. Since I started the project, we’ve seen an enormous rise in the U.S. in what the French have long called auto-fiction, so I’ve decided to let the manuscript grow slowly when and as it needs to, but mainly keep it in the drawer until the dust of the current vogue settles a bit. Most of my published output in recent years has been research-intensive fiction set in the 19th or early 20th centuries, so this story and the others like it, which dance in and out of the present or near present, have been a different kind of pleasure to work on.

What kind of research went into this story?

LH: I put on a headlamp and went spelunking in the caverns of my memory for this story. I return to rural Indiana quite frequently, in fact was in Tipton in August, so I also have a lot of recent engagement to draw on. I have a colleague who interacts with faces the way one of the characters in the story does, so in addition to researching that way of being, and the challenges it poses, I asked him about it.

What, to you, makes the short story a special form? What can it do that other kinds of writing can't?

LH: I spend a great deal of time in the space of the novel, so the story form is relatively unfamiliar terrain for me and that is part of its appeal. The stories that have been most exciting to me as a reader have been unpredictable in length, shape and tone: James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”; Grace Paley’s “Mother”; Sherman Alexie’s “Captivity”; Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones; Lydia Davis’s very short pieces; Brian Evenson’s collection Altmann’s Tongue. Indeed, the story as a field of possibility seems so wildly flexible, excitingly so, and all within the context of relative brevity, that I can’t imagine it ever using itself up. Stories are like singularities, both enormous and contained. I suppose in that way they are extremely human.

Where should people go to learn more about you and your work?

LH: Another of the stories from the manuscript “The Face” comes out of can be found here. And another one is here. Both of those pieces have a good deal of me in them.

What's the best gift you've ever been given?

LH: My grandfather gave me one of those fat, multi-blade Swiss Army knives when I was 11. I still have it and use it frequently. In addition to being very good at what it does, it is a constant reminder that there’s always more than one way to approach whatever problem (whether in life or the story you’re working on) is at hand.

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What did you think of today's story? Use the hashtag #ssac2017 on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to check in with your fellow advent calendarians.

Michael Hingston