Today has been a good-news day: I woke up this morning, silenced the alarm on my phone, and saw a Twitter notification that The Austin Review (a fantastic literary magazine, by the way!) had published Paul Adams’s review of my novel, Hagridden.
And what a review! Adams does an amazing close-reading of the text, picking apart characters and themes and motivations in ways that felt revelatory even to me, and I wrote the novel! (Word of warning, his review does contain some detailed plot analysis and therefore has a few minor spoilers, though he doesn’t ruin anything, I promise).
There is a strain of Gothic dread running through 20th century Southern literature, and it is clearly visible in Hagridden. Stylistically, the novel owes something to Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy: oppressively lush landscapes, dialogue lacking all punctuation, and sometimes jarring contrast between characters’ rich inner lives and their spare, gnomic utterances. When novelists use this style poorly, the result can be almost unreadably dense. When done well, as it is here, it creates a sense that the reader is looking into a separate and complete world, eerily similar to our own but tilted slightly toward the abstract. The characters’ actions become inevitable and weighed down by the burdens of past and future. Things become symbols of themselves.
Whoa. Faulkner and McCarthy? I’m overwhelmed by the favorable comparisons! And Adam’s isn’t done with them. Regarding the main antagonist, Lt. Whelan:
Whelan is in many ways the character who is most eloquent in speaking for himself, and some of the best passages involve menacing conversations he carries on with strangers during his hunt for Buford. His deliberate and dispassionate will to violence brings to mind the fatalistic killer Anton Chigurh from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men.
Holy shit! My character just got compared to “the ultimate badass”!
There are details of almost hallucinatory vividness, and marvelous turns of phrase are everywhere (opening the book at random twice led to “he gored the muck from beneath his fingernail” and “he asked if any recognized the items or knew where he might find their like.”) Despite the desperation and menace that pervade this novel, a dry humor often seeps through in unexpected ways. With radical empathy towards deeply flawed characters and an ability to find the exquisite in the mundane, Snoek-Brown has created a complex and brilliant novel. Though its themes are dark and horrifying, there is a great deal of beauty in this book.
Adams himself is a more than capable wordsmith. I loved some of the sentences in his review just as sentences — the imagery he evokes, the rhythms of his language. “We are told that this takes place in Western Louisiana in the waning days of the Civil War,” Adams writes, “but it might as well be happening in the Middle Ages or on the moon. This is not a complaint; this book’s sense of timeless and universal horror is one of the things that makes it such a powerful work.”
I’ve heard so many people refer to what is supposed to be a historical novel as “post-apocalyptic,” which sounds odd until you realize they’re referring to the apocalypse that is all war, but Adams does a beautiful job of conveying that idea in the broadest and yet most explicit terms I’ve seen so far.
Elsewhere, describing the characters and the early intrusion of Buford, he writes, “The murderous peace of the two women [. . .] is shattered by the return of their neighbor Buford from the war.” I love that phrase! “The murderous peace.”
And, later, referring to the legends of the rougarou and the (fictional) Civil War group of the Rougarou Corps: “Since the protagonists of the story are serial killers (albeit motivated by hunger and despair), the villains must be literally monstrous.”
I cannot convey how wonderful this review is. And to literally wake up to it, to have this be the thing that introduces me to my day, was one of the best things that’s happened to me related to Hagridden since the book was published. Gang, I’m over the moon about this.
Thanks SO MUCH to Paul Adams (may I meet him someday and buy him many beers) and The Austin Review!
But wait! Today has more in store, and this bit’s for you, friends and fans!
Columbus Press has decided to launch another giveaway on Goodreads, just in time for your Halloween reading needs. So follow the link to the giveaway page and enter for your chance to win one of three signed copies of Hagridden! Giveaway ends on November 20, so you have time to get your name in the digital hat. And don’t think you can’t enter if you already have a copy — get yourself an extra book in late November, and you can give it to someone else as a Hanukkah or Christmas gift! ;)