Samantha Hunt On Her Short Stories In 'The Dark Dark'

Jul 22, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Samantha Hunt's first book of short stories are fantastic, truly so - a woman who becomes a deer at night. An FBI agent who becomes infatuated with a robot created for undercover operation - pun intended. A woman and her not-boyfriend come into the circle of the lives of expectant teenage mothers. "The Dark Dark" is the first book of short stories from the writer who was acclaimed for her novel about Nikola Tesla, "The Invention Of Everything Else," and whose stories have often appeared in The New Yorker, McSweeney's and other places.

Samantha Hunt joins us from member station WAMC in Albany, N.Y. Thanks so much for being with us.

SAMANTHA HUNT: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And what made you decide to turn your talents to short stories after the novel?

HUNT: My dad always had a theory that a novel is a broken short story. I think there's some truth in that. I think that I've always had an attraction to the miniature because in many ways, when you're dealing with a short story, you have to be so much more attentive to language, right? It's, like, the highest distillation of prose in some way.

SIMON: Your story "All Hands" seems to be set in a place like Galveston, Texas, or Corpus Christi. I don't know. Fill in the blanks.

HUNT: Yeah.

SIMON: Sailor and a woman in port who works at a high school where there seems to be - I'll put it this way - an outbreak of teenage pregnancies. Wow, this is a complicated story in - what? - just 30 pages or something.

HUNT: That one - yeah, that one really gets to the heart of "The Dark Dark" in many ways because there's the character who's a Coast Guard official who's fallen under a tanker one night. And so that's one narrator. And then we have the 13 girls who are pregnant. And they don't speak much. And that's kind of the point because at the heart of this story is a question - what do adolescent girls mean? What is the symbol that is so troubling to America in adolescent girls?

Just quickly an aside - an example is I'm a mom to three beautiful girls. Something that disturbs me often when we walk down the street, people will look at them and they'll say, oh, there's trouble. And I'm thinking, really? 'Cause when I look at them I see, you know, three beautiful, intelligent, kind human beings. And I've always been questioning that idea. Why are adolescent girls trouble? And why is beauty so troublesome? So that was part of it.

And then - I don't know if you remember, but there was a group of young women - or girls, I should say - in Gloucester, Mass., who took a pregnancy pact and all got pregnant together. And I kept wondering, wow, for those young girls to realize that they are in some way voiceless and that a way for them to get attention is to become mothers. So I wanted to bring in that idea that questions the power of pregnancy.

SIMON: I made a note of several of your lines in this story, but the one where the Coast Guarder says one of the young mothers-to-be, they're doing the strongest thing they can think of. Murder, death - that's easy. Birth - not easy.

HUNT: (Laughter) Yeah, that was true to my experience of becoming a mom. I think I'd been fed a lot of cliches about it. You know, that, oh, it's about making dinner or it's about discipline or getting into the right school, blah, blah, blah. And that was never my experience. My experience was really one of absolute wonder and absolute unknown mystery.

How did this - how does this happen? How did I not know how hormones work in our body? How did nobody tell me that I can grow eyeballs, you know? And I still don't really understand how I grew eyeballs, to tell you the truth. But I'm trying to kind of point out, wow, mystery abounds. And, you know, let's take a pause for a moment to think about it.

SIMON: Let me ask you about your story "Love Machine."

HUNT: Sure.

SIMON: What a story.

HUNT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Wayne and Dwight in an underground silo sitting on a bomb. The Cold War ends. Dwight goes off to the FBI. And when the story opens, he's keeping tabs on Ted in his cabin. Is that Ted Kaczynski?

HUNT: It's Ted Kaczynski, yes. I was - I was really troubled when the Unabomber's manifesto was published because it made a lot of sense to me, quite frankly, when he said, you know, that machines will always win. And I thought about how much I liked to walk and how often cars got in the way of my walking, and yet I was the one considered an outsider for being a walker. Of course, that was extremely troubling to me because he's a murderer.

SIMON: Yeah. When - so, OK, Ted in his cabin.

HUNT: Yeah.

SIMON: Your Ted. Visitor knocks on his door. She is not what she appears to be. Do I give away too much when I say that?

HUNT: No, I think that's fine to say. She's a robot, right? She's a - she's in many ways like a James Bondian (ph) sexpot robot that's been built to come and lure Kaczynski from his cabin because, you know, when you think about the Enola Gay - right? - you have so many things that are horrifying that are named for women in the military.

SIMON: The Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

HUNT: Named for one of the pilot's moms, right? And it always troubled me to think about how we incorporate the female into the idea of war. And so I wanted to make a - you know, a weapon of destruction who was ultimately totally female and see what happened when she was let go on a man who hated machines more than anything.

SIMON: It's none of my business, but are you happier than these stories?

HUNT: So much more happy than these stories. I can't even tell you. I mean, I really have a very sunny disposition. And, you know, I definitely believe in a thing called love. But I also maybe in some small way credit them for getting the darkness out. You know, maybe it's - maybe my writing is some way to explore these themes so that I don't have to carry them around inside my body.

SIMON: Samantha Hunt. Her first book of short stories, "The Dark Dark." Thanks so much.

HUNT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.