Bookslut // Interview with Laird Hunt

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laird Hunt for

In terms of style, and much to his credit, Laird Hunt is a difficult writer to pin down. His work ranges from bucolic lyricism to gritty urban realism to other -isms wholly his own. He’s the author of The Paris Stories, copies of which are tragically difficult to find for those of us unwilling to send $129.95+s/h to, and the novels The Impossibly, Indiana, Indiana, and most recently The Exquisite, a playful, noir-ish thriller of ideas set in Greenwich Village.


So is there really such a thing as “difficult” literature?

I recently participated in a moderated conversation with the writer Brian Evenson. The moderator went to some lengths in describing our recent books as unusual, strange, weird, etc., and Brian (to a lesser extent) and I (to a greater extent) picked up on this in our subsequent remarks. A comment came back to us afterwards that this business of referring to the work as weird, etc., was off-putting, especially if one didn’t know what such terminology was meant to indicate. Did weird, etc., simply mean “non-realist”? And if so, why not say that? Why not define the terms? Good questions and good points. We (and again, it was more me than Brian) were caught speaking in code. “Weird” being another way of saying innovative/challenging/ slant/experimental/non-realist, which of course are all ways to say something without really saying much of anything at all.

Difficult is a little like that. In conversations around fiction, difficult is code, though much more often launched as a pejorative, which generally tends to mean non-realist work with a considerable admixture of play with referentiality and other trickery to do with the surfaces of language. The Impossibly, no surprise, got called difficult a lot. What precisely this difficulty was comprised of was rarely stated. Sometimes, after the “difficult” thing, I heard the comment, “I couldn’t get into it.” This was more helpful. This let me know that for some (perhaps many) I hadn’t made the windows and doors into the thing quite obvious enough, or if I had, I’d left them locked (and here we go with the Tolkien thing again) like the door into the Mines of Moria. Some people saw them straight away and entered (perhaps after a bit of lock-picking or spell-casting: “speak, friend, and enter”). Some people couldn’t find them at first and then did. Others, who couldn’t get into it, never found them. Still others, could get in, but then kept getting lost. Looked at that way, there are plenty of texts I find difficult, can’t get into, get lost in, etc. Middlemarch being one of them. War and Peace another. George Saunders said something that may be useful around the difficult thing in an interview he did for Marginalia a while back. He was paraphrasing someone (ah, my crappy memory) who had said that all great work, whether realist or non, is experimental — in other words it broke with convention/status quo/dominant paradigm in some important way. We could niftily substitute “weird” or “innovative” or “challenging” for experimental in that formula, but could we substitute “difficult”? I guess all I’m saying is, not necessarily.