Smoking With Robert Hinderliter

by Roland Goity Read the Story October 2, 2011

The imagery is striking throughout this one, framed by the doorway scenes: a rain-soaked Gwendolyn, the mechanical spider, the rose stem between her teeth, and then the resulting aftermath. The mechanized spider especially grabbed my attention. Sounds futuristic. Where can you rent those things?

Ha, yeah, they’re hard to come by. The setting for this story is a slightly futuristic or alternate-reality Boston. Many of the stories I write are not quite realism. I like exploring common human emotions and predicaments — in this case longing, betrayal, grief, etc. — in strange or impossible settings. Regardless, it’s hard to argue the fact that this world will be a much more interesting place once mechanical spiders are available as a means of transportation.

The story begins by recalling what happened on the narrator’s birthday: his wife finding Gwendolyn on their doorstep, while he was at the hospital visiting his brain-damaged sister. The narrator admits “it always rains on my birthday.” Do dark clouds and trouble follow him around year after year?

I think so. He doesn’t seem like a very happy person. Most of the stories I write are unfortunately rather morose. But I’m cautiously optimistic for these characters. The narrator is reevaluating his life after watching his sister’s deteriorating health. Gwenie will hopefully come to terms with the fact that the intense relationship she had with this older man is not healthy for her. As for Carmella…I hope she has better luck with her concerto than she did with her husband.

One line that jumped out at me was about the sister: “Marianne said she’d sail from Boston to Brussels in a hot air balloon.” It seemed to come from nowhere. Was that simply a whimsical dream of hers, or is that somehow a clue as to what happened to her?

That’s part of a list of things the characters said that turned out not to be true. I wanted to give a sense of the kind of person Marianne was before she became ill: adventurous, ambitious, and probably a little naive. Marianne has a prion disease — Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or something similar. Prion diseases are these horrible, incurable illnesses that eat away at your brain until it looks like a sponge (they’re also called spongiform diseases because of this), causing all sorts of neurological calamity before killing you. I feel bad even giving one to a fictional character. I think watching someone you love suffer from a prion disease would be enough to make anyone do a little soul searching.

Gwendolyn is filled with despair, both the piece and the character herself. Yet, there’s a haunting beauty throughout the story, so eloquently described in your prose. Intriguingly, the narrator claims to have genuinely shared Gwendolyn’s affection for self-inflicted pain, perhaps beyond any form of eroticism. He describes how he guided her “trembling hand on that first cut,” and how they vowed to open their “veins in a clawfoot bathtub and bathe in the bloodwater.” What is it that makes these characters want to harm themselves?

I believe this is a fairly common psychosexual compulsion. There’s a whole subculture built around it. It’s something the narrator was probably drawn to but couldn’t share with his wife. And when he and Carmella took in Gwenie, he saw this damaged girl as an opportunity to explore that dark need inside him. But now I think he regrets the path he led her down (not that she was a helpless or unwilling participant) and feels a sincere warmth for her and remorse for the mess he’s made.

I’ve enjoyed reading a number of your stories, and am happy to have published one (“Never Shaken, Never Stirred”). Are you working towards putting together a collection, or perhaps engaged in a novel? What writing projects and/or goals are now on your mind?

On the TV show Deadwood, the Al Swearengen character at one point says, “Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.” I think that’s true. I always have big plans for something until the next idea pulls my attention in a different direction. Distinguishing our passions from our whims is not always easy. They look very similar at the start.

About the Author:

Robert Hinderliter lives in Corvallis, Oregon. His previous work has appeared in Pear Noir!, trnsfr, decomP, Annalemma and other publications.