Indiana, Indiana (the dark and lovely portions of the night) from Coffee House, 2003, is one of two novels by Laird Hunt that I read for school last year, and it's stayed with me.
It's a novel with a very basic through story. It is given the heft and richness of a book-length work by the author’s stylistic, poetic approach in exploring his central character’s thoughts and soul.
To say Indiana, Indiana is a simple story, however, is to do it disservice. It is brief with only a few characters, and most of the tale unfolds from the protagonist’s pouring over mementos from his life.
Yet it is a complex exploration of the simple-minded man and his rural life. His reflections on his past and longing for his institutionalized wife, Opal, open up the narrative to incidents and intrigue.
Hunt’s approach is meditative, yet as he delves into the mind of Noah Summers and dissects his reflections, he offers a certain objectivity. We are often allowed to interpret Noah’s reality from within Noah’s perspective, with some revelations withheld for narrative impact.
We see Noah Summers lacks something. He’s capable of serving as a postman, yet incapable of the discernment that it’s inappropriate for a civil servant to sit down with people he happens on at mealtime.
Noah has other gifts that stand in for what he lacks. Psychic abilities allow him to help the local sheriff with unsolved crimes, and he’s wise enough to bargain with his abilities and eventually to imitate Opal’s behavior in an attempt to be institutionalized with her.
Since the book unfolds through Noah’s memories, stimulated by mementos, Hunt offers additional narrative touches that further enhance and open up the story. Sprinkled throughout the chapters are letters from Opal, for example. These hint at her sensitivity and perhaps some delusion, yet the spirit of what makes Noah miss her so much is evident.
“Yesterday, I got out of the bath. While I was in there, all of the leaves had fallen off the trees. I was sad when I saw they had already raked all the pretty leaves up.”
In another letter, she observes:
“I had hoped I would see humming birds at the new feeder but none came. Least ways not while I was watching. … They’re so tiny—like pretty thoughts.”
Another interesting addition to the narrative is an outline of the entire work found at the opening of each chapter, with that chapter’s events or letters highlighted and others grayed.
In the box
The lines feel at first almost like a 19th century novel approach, but they are appropriate, since the narrative is an amalgamation of memories and mementos. The outline is like the box of memories through which Noah sifts, reliving his life, and it helps organize and unify the meditation.
Indiana, Indiana is a moving portrait of the type of a man not often given fictional scrutiny. To delve into it and to gain entry into Noah’s world is a fascinating and emotionally haunting journey, a little like Noah’s contemplative evening with his memories.