Ray of the Star, Laird Hunt. (Coffee House Press) $14.95
In Ray of the Star, Laird Hunt has written an intriguing story of love and grief. A man who is running from his past jets off to a nameless European city, where he falls for a woman who poses as a living statue. In order to be nearer to her, the man dons a golden knight outfit and attempts to become a living statue as well. Unfortunately, Hunt is unable to move the story past the merely intriguing, and although Ray of the Star shows flashes of brilliance, it is ultimately unsatisfying.
Before anything else, the writing style Hunt chose for the novel must be addressed. Each section is a two- or three-page string of conjuncted phrases, punctuated by commas and em dashes and then finally a single period. This device rushes the narrative along at a fast clip, making it read like a book-length David Kirby poem, except not as funny. At its worst, Hunt’s style distracts the reader, coming off as gimmicky, something akin to a writing exercise. His syntax is never complicated enough to merit the treatment on its own accord, and certain sections—most notably the dialogue—seem to be fused together by commas simply because the author didn’t want to break his rule. At its best, it allows space for some beautifully compounded poetic imagery, and because it pushes the reader forward, the style successfully mirrors the propulsive forces that rush the characters to their fates.
Surprisingly, the storyline is straightforward and chronological. Hunt creates an interesting world out of his society of living statues, but it is a small world. At its core the story revolves around two grief-stricken people finding love and attempting to reconcile their pasts while hurtling towards an unknown danger. Hunt writes some gripping stuff. The danger feels palpable, the mystery is absorbing, and the love story is sweet if not nearly as affecting as it could be. The characters’ interactions run the gamut from normal to absurd, covering phantom limbs, the Black Dahlia murder, Jungian synchronicity, and many other surrealist topics. While interesting, these do make the characters seem too cerebral, somehow disconnected from their flesh. The book as a whole suffers from the same problem. The imposed form is disconnected from the breath and blood of the story itself, preventing the rich ideas and the compelling narrative from taking shape.
Kevin Funkhouser is an MFA candidate at Seattle Pacific University’s creative writing program. He lives in Costa Mesa, California.