The sentences that tend to bliss me out are the very short ones. On page six of Lindsay Hunter's debut novel, Ugly Girls, I read this: "The night was warm as a mouth." That's it. I put the book down for a second. Then I picked it back up again and stared at the sentence, to make sure I didn't misread it the first time. I took a picture of the sentence. I tweeted the photo, more to convince myself that the sentence exists than anything else. So short. So evocative. You know exactly what Hunter means; you've stood in that salivary evening air, felt it licking you. Ugly Girls is full of hot, wet familiarity like that. It's the story of two teenage girls, Perry and Baby Girl, and their minor-league crime spree across a dingy Southern town that seems to be located—spiritually, if not geographically—in Harry Crews's Florida.
Mouths are everywhere in this book: Myra, Perry's alcoholic mother, "woke up with a yolky taste in her mouth. She tried licking her lips but that only spread the yolk around, and the yolk dried fast." Myra's boyfriend, Jim, who works as a prison guard, can't stop thinking about:
How he'd watched an inmate swallow mouthfuls of his own bright blood after he got in a fight with his roommate over toilet rights. Just gulp, and then his mouth would fill again, and then gulp. How Jim had held a roll of toilet paper up to the man's mouth and it got half soaked.
Slick red mouths, crusty yellow mouths, velvety night mouths that swallow everything. Baby Girl and Perry fancy themselves as the kind of thugs they see in the movies: They steal cars. They ignore everything but each other. They act tough, and the act is consuming them whole. Both girls are flirting with the same mysterious boy on Facebook. Neither one finds his misspelled messages to be especially charming, but they like being liked, so they don't bother to notice the menacing undertone to his flirtations. The orbits of their lives are tiny—the crime spree spans blocks, not miles—and those concentric circles are clamping down on them. By the end of the book, one of them will be eaten alive.