I first met Sandra Hunter at Ghost Ranch during the 2011 A Room of Her Own Foundation Retreat. She lead us in a beautiful breath-inspired meditation. In advance of the retreat, I started a series of short Reading Diaries on my She Writes blog page; I am thrilled to pick up that thread again with a look at Hunter’s novel, Losing Touch.
“Who could have predicted the way things would go? When did the forward rush change into the hesitant step? Is it possible to really know who your children are?” These pivotal questions, tinged with lament and yearning, form the spine of Sandra Hunter’s beautiful debut novel, Losing Touch (OneWorld Publications, July 2014). The novel tracks the relationship of head of the household Arjun to his wife Sunila and their children after their relocation from India to London and more importantly, after an illness that strikes Arjun begins to challenge his prowess.
Hunter’s brilliant nested metaphors stand not only for Arjun’s relationship to himself and his body as he loses faculties to the illness (diagnosed as Spinal Muscular Atrophy), “How does a living part of the body become a stranger, behave so differently without the rest of the body’s consent?” but easily stand for the way Arjun experiences his adult children having morphed and matured without him. Hunter’s simple, clear assertions of displacement resonate metaphorically as in a scene in which Arjun falls, “He has struggled so hard to blend in and now is a focal point,” and work to heighten our understanding of the racism Arjun endures.
While Hunter’s pithy questions forced me to examine my own patterns of relating to my husband, children and my culture, I also fell in love with the poetry of her descriptions: “morning is flint-edged, sun sparkling off the frost on the pavement, hedges and trees.” Hunter describes eloquently the “sigh of a brocade dress along the wooden floor,” and gives us a vivid image of an uncertain Arjun mistrusting his own reflection: “the old wall mirror gives him back an undulating version of his anxious frown.” Later, with chilling precision, Hunter writes of Arjun’s disease, “Even now he knows this thing is moving inside of him, switching neurons off like unnecessary lights.”
I finished Hunter’s novel in tears just as my eight-year-old son came clamoring for his bedtime story. I composed myself enough to read his evening chapter to him, waiting eagerly for him to fall asleep so I could work my way through figuring out which of Arjun and Sunila’s mistakes I’ve already committed and which I can still avoid making. When a novel inspires you to balance the ledger of your relationships with others, it has outdone itself. The next day, I dropped everything to head to the park with a backpack, a soccer ball, a couple of tennis rackets, and a very happy little boy who still wanted, whole-heartedly, to spend the day with his mother. I’m listening, Arjun, I’m listening--your much-grieved choices not in vain.
Sandra Hunter’s fiction has been published in a number of literary magazines and received awards including the 2014 H.E. Francis Fiction Award, 2012 Cobalt Fiction Prize, 2011 Arthur Edelstein Short Fiction Prize, and three Pushcart Prize nominations. Her debut novel, Losing Touch, will be published in July 2014 (OneWorld Publications). She lives in Simi Valley, CA, with her husband and daughter, and is an avid collector of gluten-free dessert recipes.
For more information regarding upcoming events, visit Sandra Hunter's website.
Headshot credit: Kathy Rappaport.