A novelist revisits his ‘ghostly’ childhood home

A few months before his novel, “Mr. Splitfoot ”published in 2016, Samantha Hunt had to ask other writers for marketing blurb.

“I’m embarrassed to ask my friends and writers for complimenting me for working for free,” said Mrs. Hunt, author of Spooky Literary Fiction. “Blurb work. So I thought, well, if blurb is labor, why not just pay for one? It would be simple, fair. And then I thought, since I’m already ‘Mr. Splitfoot,’ why not just ask someone to call Charlotte Bronte and get a blurb from her?

So he went to see a medium in Albany. In a dark, windowless office, Miss Hunt said, the media tried to communicate. Presumably speaking as the author of “Jane Eyre”, he commented that “Mr. Splitfoot” was a good title.

“That’s what people want,” recalled the medium in Mrs. Hunt Bront’s voice. “It has a lot of good energy and people, people will like it. It’s interesting. ‘

Mrs. Hunt suspected that the great 19th-century writer Brontë would speak like this, but these words appeared as a back-cover blurb, responsible for “Charlotte Brontë, speaking through a medium.”

Despite her suspicions, Mrs. Hunt, 50, stated that she was interested in the medium and the work they were doing. “How much intuition? How much are you listening to? How much is being an observer? I believe in those things, “he said during a visit to his childhood home in Pound Ridge, NY last week.” As a writer, it’s my job to listen. It’s my job to discover what that is and to bring it about. “

In her latest work, The Unwritten Book: An Investigation, Miss Hunt considers how the Pound Ridge House, originally built in 1765 and has since expanded, informs her writing and worldview. It’s a haunted house, he said, though not in the traditional sense.

“I started thinking about the way we become ghosts as a calcification process,” he said. “‘Spooky’ is when something comes along with you, when we are not fully aware of a presence. It is something that you carry inside you.”

Her mother, Diane Hunt, 85, has lived at home since the family left more than 50 years ago. The author’s father, Walter Hunt, who worked as editor of Reader’s Digest, died in 2001 at the age of 71.

The house is now “full of things from people who love the dead,” Mrs Hunt said. He likened it to an art installation in Nick Cave or Portia Munson, calling it “an awkward museum where you can touch everything.”

Its rooms are full of collections: patchwork quilts, her father’s neck hanging behind the door, attic clothes, thousands of art books, and dozens of canvases painted by her mother over the decades.

A portrait in the dining room shows Miss Hunt as a girl surrounded by ripe fruit, a candle, a goblet and a commemorative mori.

“I put a skull in it,” Diane Hunt said, “which wasn’t good.”

Mrs. Hunt laughed and said of her mother: “She looks like a delicate flower, but she is also a diseased flower!”

In the living room, he pointed to a large figure of a shady man behind the blindfolded woman.

“And that one of you,” he said to his mother, “even though you didn’t say?”

“I guess it must be me, because I don’t think I had a model,” her mother said.

“I always think of you and my father like that,” said Mrs. Hunt. “It’s kind of scary though.”

“Some people think it’s scary,” said his mother. “Some people think it’s romantic.”

The house was lively and noisy when Mrs. Hunt was growing up, often filled with neighborhood kids who loved any environment. He and his five siblings also had to fight adults who got their way through marathon parties. In the “unwritten book” he recalls “tattered clothes, jealous quarrels, dirty songs at 2am” as well as “uncle stumbling on the stairs” and “visiting editors lying on the living room floor”. At the end of the driveway some of the nights ended with the adults driving into a ditch.

To avoid chaos, Mrs. Hunt finds herself drawn to her father’s Royal Typewriter. “The writing seemed like a quiet place in this house that wasn’t quiet at all,” he said.

At age 15, he left home to study at Northfield Mount Harmon, a “hippie” boarding school in Massachusetts. “My first religion teacher came and said, ‘Hi, I’m a feminist!’ And I was, ‘What’s that?’ ”He recalls.

He later studied geology, printmaking and literature at the University of Vermont. After graduation, he lived in a geodesic dome and supported himself by working in a waiting table and a garment factory. Almost every morning he would get up before dawn to write fiction, a practice he conducted while he was at Seven Days, Burlington, VT. And worked for an alternative weekly newspaper, The Village Voice in New York.

Mrs. Hunt, who lives opposite her husband, journalist Joe Hagen, and their three children, has published a collection of three novels and a short story. Her first novel, “The Seas,” won 5 under 35 awards at the National Book Foundation. Her second, “The Invention of Everything Else”, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, based on the life of Nikola Tesla. In 2017 he published his story collection “The Dark Dark” and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Fiction.

“Her sensitivity is like an antenna for the abnormal,” said author and editor Ed Park, who worked with Miss Hunt on The Village Voice.

Mrs. Hunt said she recently discovered a story she wrote in her early 20’s, about two daughters on a road trip. The girl on the wheel talks all the time, the other is silent. (Fans of his novel will recognize this twist.) “Of course, the girl in the back seat is dead,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I’ve been writing the same story for 25 years.”

Some readers have been paying close attention for so long. “Sam has been writing incredibly innovative, bizarre and transportable books for the past 20 years,” said poet and essayist Maggie Nelson, who wrote an introduction to the reprint of “The Sis.” “Her work has always been very deeply feminist, which means it speaks to the differences while allowing for interesting cross-identification and new physical possibilities.”

Before the family moved to Pound Ridge House, Diane Hunt asked a spectator to hide. “I said, ‘If there’s a soul here, it’s good. You’re welcome to stay. But don’t let me meet you, “he said. “And they never have.”

Thanks to the original stone chimney and American chestnut floors, it was made in the 1700s from a species of tree that is now virtually extinct, the past is always present. “I was always aware of how many families lived here before me,” said Samantha Hunt.

The most vibrant family spirit was his father, who concentrated books as part of his work in Reader’s Digest. The family believes he met in the form of a cardinal, Miss Hunt said. Her mother added that once, when she lost her wedding ring, she asked her late husband where it was. Almost immediately he found it “in a small purse in a pile of rubble,” he said.

Walter Hunt was in favor of Gilbert’s Jean and Schlitz beer, and his drinking meant that Mrs. Hunt and her siblings were always on the lookout for them. “Alcoholics are wary of detectives, smells, behaviors, and slight changes in language,” he wrote in “Unwritten Books.”

He further mentions in the book that his ashes are still in the room inside a cookie tin labeled “Walter Victorias”.

“It could be lost again,” Mrs. Hunt said during my visit. He went back to his mother. “We got it about a year ago, remember?”

She left the kitchen and went upstairs.

“Look behind the bishop’s bench!” Her mother yelled, referring to a foldout table in the hallway.

Mrs. Hunt returned a few minutes later, holding her breath.

“He was in the attic,” he said.

He was carrying his father’s briefcase, which he took to his OldSmobile Starfire’s Reader’s Digest office. In the living room, he opened the tin that contained his ashes, as well as a pile of mourning letters and an old lottery ticket.

“He was a big lottery fan,” said Mrs. Hunt. “He played every day.”

“Oh, yes, every day,” said his mother.

The title “Unwritten Book” comes from her unfinished novel, which Miss Hunt discovered on her desk shortly after her death. She has included excerpts from it in her essays, including annotations for her fiction and connections to the family.

“My dad loved puzzle books and techniques and games,” he said, “so he’d be happy to think something strange happened to his work.”

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