I love Twin Peaks like I love a great thunderstorm. For those not in the know, Twin Peaks is the best television series ever made, following the strange affairs of an at-first-glance-wholesome town turned upside-down by the murder of a homecoming queen, the investigation of which dregs up tenebrous secrets of both the human and supernatural kind. What’s not to love?
Made in the '90s, and directed by David Lynch, Twin Peaks has returned for a new season. I’ve heard the gripes over the fact that Lynch has turned an eye toward colder aspects of modernity rather than the small-town quaintness we came to love—to which I say, phooey, the eerie and mystical is like mold and it can exist anywhere. We’re at a point in the season where the newly-arrived have tuned into something more digestible, while the Lynchean evangelists continue to watch, saying, hold on, just one more episode, this is about to get really good. But perhaps even the most evangelist-ist of us are beginning to lose heart.
While we wait for David Lynch to either torch the series and watch it go up in flames like the gleeful monster he is, or bring back the beloved Agent Dale Cooper (do the right thing, David), I’ve got the book just for you—it is Samantha Hunt’s first story collection, The Dark Dark.
In these stories, life is inspected under the glaring lights of suburbia, Home Depot, and Walmart: women court madness and danger, and are at the edge of becoming something other—and, like in our best Lynchean dreams, these are stories with talons dipped into the eerie and the supernatural.
In one story, for example, a town is thrown into disarray by the simultaneous pregnancy of 13 mysterious teens; in another, a woman trying to convince herself that death is uncomplicated watches her dog come back to life. The writing in The Dark Dark is swoon-worthy, and craft-wise, there is not one hair out of place. In fact, if you were standing before me I might push this book immediately into your hands.
What’s more, I might open the book to page 47, to the third story titled Beast , and instruct you to read.
I read the newspaper in bed at night, propping it open on my belly. My boobs fall off to either side as if they are already asleep, as if they care little for the news of the world after the day is done. Still, I read the paper as a refreshment, like a breath mint or a catalog filled with clothes I would never buy.
She personally had me at "My boobs fall off to either side as if they are already asleep." The woman in this story is an endearing worrier. She cannot sleep thinking about whether she has lyme disease, what the noises are in the dark, whether her husband is cheating, whether she herself might cheat—then she turns into a deer at night:
[This] week I haven’t been able to fall asleep quickly. I know it’s coming, so I fret and listen while my husband’s breath deepens and slows. [...] I wait, and just when I think too much time has passed, that maybe it won’t happen tonight, it happens so quickly I can’t scream. My hands and feet harden into small hooves, the fingers and toes swallowed up by bone, and then the most frightening part is over with, the part where I lose my opposable thumbs. Next the fur, brown speckled with some white. This sprouting feels like a stretch or like I’m itching each individual follicle from the inside as a wiry hair pokes through a pore. My arms and legs grow narrow, driving all their muscles up the flank. My neck thickens and grows. I feel my tail. I like my tail. Finally my face pulls into a tight, hard nose. My jaw extends, my tongue grows long and thick, my lips shrink before turning black and hard as leather. And then it’s done. And then I am a deer.
Samantha Hunt has written a perfect story collection, and she’s opened and closed the book with stories that actually hold a mirror to each other. I cannot say more without spoiling your fun. All I can say is to read this master of turning peddling dramas of the self into supernatural visitations. As any Lynchian evangelist can tell you, the landscape of pedestrian worries never quite looks so beautiful or meaningful as when it is unsettled by something like eels roiling beneath.
Samantha Hunt reads from 'The Dark Dark' on Wednesday, July 26, at 7:30pm at Green Apple Books (1231 Ninth Ave., San Francisco). Details here.
The Spine is a biweekly book column. Catch us back here in two weeks.