The Huntress by Sofia Samatar is a 375-word flash fiction story about a foreigner and a monster. I’m guessing you found this post by searching “The Huntress Explained”, so let’s get to it. For those who have yet to read it, you can do so here. The story ends on a twist. On the first read-through, I had no clue as to why the Huntress “was there as a witness.” But before we answer that question, let’s look at the clues. First, from the lines below, it would appear that the narrator is also a monster.
Exiles and insomniacs share this feeling: that each is the only one. I feel like I’m turning into this fierce person. A taskmaster to myself, like a ballet dancer or a monk. The Huntress left dark patches wherever she passed. She left a streak. In the morning, the hotel staff would find me unconscious, gummed to the floor. The fierceness can be seen around the mouth. I compress my lips when I’m thinking. Our dad was the same way.
These last two lines made me think at first that the narrator is the Huntress terrorizing the locals. But that doesn’t make sense as it is clear that the phenomenon of the Huntress is occurring before the narrator (who we learn is an American) arrives.
I feel like I’m turning into this fierce person. A taskmaster to myself, like a ballet dancer or a monk. Are monks happy? No, they are not interested in that category of feeling. But I’m supposed to be. I’m an American.
This paragraph suggests the narrator is unhappy with herself (I’m guessing the gender here), and pushes herself to be happy. If we read into the previous lines a bit deeper, perhaps the narrator is unhappy because she has been exiled from her country. This line, found two paragraphs down, continues the thought:
The fierceness can be seen around the mouth. I compress my lips when I’m thinking. Our dad was the same way.
Now let us return to what the Huntress is witnessing. What are things that are “witnessed”? I only can think of crimes, or more generally, events. But there is no hint of a crime taking place in this story, and the only event is the narrator “turning into a fierce person.” So it would appear that the Huntress is witnessing the narrator becoming a fellow monster. I also wonder if the Huntress is the narrator’s sister. But without any other hint of the sibling also being in the foreign land, I don’t see any reason to believe this.
Things that I still don’t understand:
1. Is the narrator staying in an embassy or a hotel? Or is there a hotel in the embassy?
2. The significance of this line: “I went to slam it shut, but instead I stood there, fingers gripping the edge of the frame. I closed my eyes in the searching heat.”
3. Which lion is the narrator referring to when she says, “This lion didn’t sound like any lion from movies or games or anything. It had a whining hunger. It was a tenor lion.”
In the end, I feel as though the entire story is up for interpretation. Ask 100 readers the meaning of the story and you’ll get 100 answers, which hey, is fine, people should be free to write what they want and express what they want. But as a reader, I don’t find the experience much different than reading a string of random sentences.
Anyway, I think I’ll end the post here. Perhaps follow up with another post with my thoughts on literary stories versus genre stories in the future.
If you liked The Huntress, you can check out some of Sofia Samatar’s other short stories in her collection Tender.