“Kind One” (Coffee House Press, 213 pages, $14.95) is a story of human cruelty delivered in gorgeous prose. As I read the book, I found myself frequently having to pause after passages—some gruesome, some hinting at gruesomeness—to catch my breath. The rhythm of the language always drew me back into the story, a story I might have put down had it been written less beautifully.
“Kind One” centers on three women brought together in the house of Linus Lancaster in antebellum Kentucky. Lancaster is an evil man, given to grandiose visions of his life, but mired in an ugly reality. He abuses his slaves, including Cleome and Zinnia, two women just a bit younger than the wife he marries when she is 14 years old. The wife, Ginny, also suffers egregiously at Lancaster’s hands. Eventually, the women turn against each other with the same ferocious anger that burns in Lancaster.
Here is Ginny considering her plight after Lancaster has been killed and she has been beaten and imprisoned by the slaves. “Sometimes I picked up my talking at the end of the day when I was lying on the dirt floor of the shed. It wasn’t unusual that my lips were too cracked to move nice enough for real talk so I would just run it in my head. Linus Lancaster, you are dead and I am lying out here with a shackle on my ankle, and Cleome is grown bigger and bigger, and Zinnia is fixing to strike me down so I won’t come up again. The rats are in there at you, and then they’ll come out and look to me, and everything they ever sang in those old songs about the hard places a body can come to are true.”
As the title suggests, “Kind One” isn’t merely a story of iniquity and anguish. But it is a book I recommend advisedly. Hunt’s lovely prose shines a light into some very dark places.