Fiction writer Samantha Hunt has the capacity to tell a story that genuinely surprises, like her 2016 novel Mr. Splitfoot, which I read in a hot hurry, then immediately restarted because I wasn’t ready to be done with its mix of strangeness and surprise. That book flirted with something dark and occult, so I was intrigued by the title of Hunt’s new collection of stories, The Dark Dark. Would these tales go to darker and stranger places? The answer is yes—but, of course, Hunt never gives you quite what you expect.

In The Dark Dark, mysteries abound. Some are fantastical—why has a dead dog come back to life? Can a man love a robot? What does a woman’s affair have to do with her turning into a deer at night in her bedroom next to her husband? Others are more mundane: Did a 14-year-old seek to seduce a man in his thirties, knowing the trouble it would cause? Why can’t a woman who desires a child get pregnant?

The stories intertwine what’s extraordinary and familiar in meaningful ways, taking on density and weight. In Hunt’s imaginative universe, that which is dark, dangerous, and peculiar menaces, but is often not the real threat. The stories subvert our notions of safety and hazard, light and dark. A character laments the impending development of a deserted area she likes to walk through. Her worry is that “soon there will be nothing left that is unknowable, unlit, and mysterious. There will be no more of the dark dark.” Hunt’s stories, on the other hand, let the unexplained remain.

While easy satisfaction is not on offer, reading pleasures abound in Hunt’s incisive and witty prose and characters who linger in the mind like acquaintances you hope to meet again. In “A Love Story,” a pot-dealing mother-turned-writer who hasn’t had sex with her husband in eight months wears sunglasses at the pool so she can observe the 19-year-old lifeguard. “I love it that he, a child, is guarding me, fiercest of warriors, a mother, strong as stinky cheese, with a ripe, moldy, melted rotten center of such intense complexity and flavor it would kill a boy of his tender age,” she says.

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Hunt takes risks. Some of her stories are tightly and superbly constructed, others are more meandering and strange—like the final story, which rearranges the elements of the first, repeating and rewriting, and then doubling and repeating again. Down to the familiarity of the story form, Hunt makes everything she touches strange, precarious, and unknowable.

The Dark Dark: Stories
by Samantha Hunt
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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