There is a lot of talk about auto-fiction in the current literary conversation. But what about darkly absurd auto-fiction in which the characters skirt the boundaries of reality and plunge headlong into the depths of the imploding American dream, where they’re overrun by strip malls and predators, inattentive drivers who ram cars into living rooms, and women with old men growing from inside them? That’s the world of Shane Hinton’s Pinkies, a wonderful debut collection about the Florida just beyond the gaze of tourists.
You’ll find aspects of Hinton in almost every story. Hell, you’ll meet twelve of him in “All The Shane Hintons,” a meditation on identity and insecurity where Shane Hinton invites every other Shane Hinton he can track down to the world’s first, and likely only, all-Shane Hinton reunion at a local park. Amid a barbecue contest and a three-legged race, fearing all the while his wife will prefer one of them to him, Shane Hinton faces himself on a the kind of level Carl Jung would have loved. Hinton uses himself like a literary voodoo doll, putting himself in harm’s ways, stretching himself to the limits, seeing what he can endure.
In the title story, Hinton confronts fatherhood and baby naming while his neighborhood is overrun by pythons. He takes it upon himself to trap the snakes before they become a threat to his newborn child by using baby mice, or pinkies, as bait. The parallel between the baby and the baby mice rips through the mind as the story races to its end.
“Pets” offers a litany of the many lost animals the narrator had between the ages of five and twelve. They all died grisly deaths, we learn. Chickens are eaten by foxes. Cats get brain infections. Dogs drink weed killer and die in a ditch. The young narrator—the young Shane Hinton?—can tell which of his deceased pets are in which graves by the size of the hole. This is a farm story—here, animals are measured by different criteria than suburban pets, which we often see as little furry children. It’s a powerful piece that left me feeling like I had just watched a lion eating a gazelle on an old episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
“Never Trust The Weather Man” is about getting run over by and trapped under a tractor, being close to bleeding out, and making the best of it with a picnic and some greasy fried chicken and potato salad supplied by mom while the paramedic decides what to do next. Hinton rips through the contemporary American landscape and its first-world absurdities. How white do your teeth need to be, exactly, for you to be a success? To what lengths will we go to find out? Hinton has the answer in “Self Cleaning.” The characters in these stories deal with the madness of modernity in just the way we all wish we could, with more Deleuzian madness, raging against the urge to give ourselves over to the prevailing culture. In “Excision,” the narrator learns that the cyst behind his ear contains his lost lawnmower keys. “Symbiont” introduces an old man who grows from a woman’s vagina, and forums where others suffer the same condition and call it “the beautiful symbiosis.”
Hinton’s stories have a vivid density. A lot happens in a smallish space. His compact prose skirts the edges of absurdism, while constructing a world you very much want to exist in some parallel space in the cosmos. In “Intersection,” a family lives in terror as a wave of inattentive drivers come crashing into their living room, leaving a gaping hole in their lives and a string of dead bodies. One woman, left behind in the wreckage, stares helplessly up at our narrator as he calls the insurance company hoping the extensive damage—and the woman’s death—is covered.
That’s not the only carnage in Pinkies. In “Driving School,” car troubles turn out to be caused by a series of dead bodies—a young boy stuck in the undercarriage, his mom wedged in the wheel well. As he recounts seeing them at the park where he ran them over, the mechanic finds the rest of the family up under the bumper, still holding their paper plates and wearing pointed birthday hats from the party they were there to celebrate. It’s all resolved with a driver’s safety course video.
Pinkies offers a delightful distortion of what is. In tearing down the veneer of the Florida most know, Hinton gives us something frayed and unfinished, yet beautifully real. I could live in this world, kick around and get lost there, even as the edges come crashing down. This is how the Shane Hinton would want it. We should, too.