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Rachel Hulin

This Haunting Novel About Twins Is Being Written On Instagram

Sep 28, 2015
Ideas

In 2012, Jennifer Egan caused a sensation with her story "Black Box," which was first tweeted out in increments of 140-characters or less, as Twitter dictates, then published by the New Yorker in short-story format. Now, writer and photographer Rachel Hulin (known for the Flying Henry photo series and children's book) is posting pieces of a story from a novel on Instagram, accompanied by haunting images from the lives of a pair of twins.

Hey Harry, Hey Matilda is an epistolary novel of correspondence between the title siblings, who share the mundane details of their lives, reflections on their childhood and concerns about the future. A strange intensity courses through their conversations—is it sexual tension, or just the incredible closeness of twins?

The story is playing out on a website and Instagram feed filled with melancholy photos—a broken watch, a melting stick of butter, a chandelier and lots of obscured faces—alongside emails between Harry and Matilda Goodman. Hulin first experimented with the story about five years ago on a blog that she has since taken down; she sees the new website as a kind of trailer for the final project, an actual book whose manuscript is already written (though she doesn't yet have a publisher). "It's sort of a work in progress," Hulin says. "It's interesting to see how it manifests on Instagram ... That's what I like about it: it's a living, breathing project, because it's already changing a little, and it will change, I imagine, as people interact with it."

The posts will take place "in real time" relative to the story, over the course of about nine months. In the mean time, Hulin shared the following two photos and snippets, the next to appear on the Instagram feed, with TIME:

Rachel Hulin

Hey Harry

HEY HARRY

The two girls we were working with in Martha's Vineyard had deep tans they slathered on from a pink bottle and really long, fake fingernails. They snuck boys into the dormer and rarely included me in their conversations. But if they had liked me I would have liked them.

One other girl in particular was more charming than I was and also prettier of course and the family found out she was at art school. The father would take her around the house at cocktail hour --we’d put out crudité (yeah, I didn’t know what it was either) – and a cheese plate and Scotch, and he’d show her his painting collection, ask about her drawings. He had a Transatlantic accent although he was born in Ohio and he sometimes wore an ascot. I’d hover around them and pick up the used blue cocktail napkins with wet rings on them from the low-ball tumblers and watch.

My favorite family member was the youngest daughter who was glamorous and untouchable when I picked her up from the airport.

She would come back to the serving area in between courses and we’d smoke menthols and drink malt liquor together. Her name was Martina and she had dramatic yelling fights with her father that echoed through the house at night. She made “dad” into five syllables. “Da a a a a d!” High-pitched. She always had a fresh manicure, with black glossy polish ten or so years before black was all the edgy rage. I opened her diet sodas by the pool and handed them to her. She didn’t want to pop the cans herself.

Rachel Hulin

Hey Harry, part two

Hey Harry,

Max came to visit on the fourth of July weekend. His eyes looked especially blue and he was talking about other girls. Older girls, girls with accents. I think he thought I was over him. He was of course un-indoctrinated in the ways of being the help so he kept making the mistake of wandering into the main house and nearly fraternizing with the family.

“Do you think I have a chance with Martina?” he kept asking me.

And then he’d finish the Champagne that had been left out and gone flat.

I went to sleep early one night after my run, tired and keyed up from the asthma medication I’d been popping to look less rhomboid in my maid outfit. When I stepped into the blinding morning sun the next day to skim the leaves from the surface of the water I saw two bathing suits mingling together, Max’s and Martina’s, four feet down on the dappled, watery pool bottom and I sat down and cried.

At the end of the summer the girls with the fake tans had a blowout fight because it turned out they were secret bisexual lovers and were having a jealousy thing.

Which proved I didn’t know anything about anything.

I missed you, Harry. You should have come to see me.


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