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Local Book Review: Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown

How often do you pick up a book from one of your favorite authors and hope and wish and pray it’s as good as the last? I do it every time, but truth be told, only about half the books I read live up to my expectations. Lucky for me, Samuel Snoek-Brown’s Hagridden did, in fact, live up to my expectations as I read it while camping in wilds of Utah.

Hagridden is a historical fiction novel and it’s set in the U.S. South as the Civil War came to a close. It follows two women who’re struggling to survive in the bayou and rebuilt their lives with the little (humanity) they’ve got left. The book reads very much like a Cormac McCarthy novel, both in tone and content, but it’s much easier to palate during the gritty moments (read: less depressing and less descriptive of gore … most of the time). I was also pleasantly surprised by the author’s dedication to staying within historical bounds. As someone who doesn’t read historical fiction very often, I’d say this is a great book to start with.

One thing that piqued my interest while reading was that Snoek-Brown doesn’t name either of his protagonists, leaving an air of mystery around the two women. Is the author saying we’re all capable of ugly, animalistic behavior under the right circumstances? Or asking readers to consider how quickly the line between being civilized and being a savage is erased when faced with the harsh realities of survival? I’ll let you read and decide for yourself, and maybe one day we’ll discuss it when we bump into each other at a coffee shop (this is inevitable, trust me).

Lastly, of my favorite aspects of Hagridden was how similarly it reads to Snoek-Brown’s short stories, which were some of the best I’ve read over the last year. Believe me when I say the short stories of Box Cutters are just as good as those of Helen Oyeyemi, author of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours or Primo Levi, author of The Periodic Table. Snoek-Brown’s work, whether in short story or novel form, is consistently dark and eerie, and he’s managed to retain a distinctive, original voice throughout. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy his writing, Hagridden included.

3 thoughts on “Local Book Review: Hagridden by Samuel Snoek-Brown

  1. Reblogged this on Samuel Snoek-Brown and commented:
    So, I’m just going to leave this here, alongside my thanks for writer and poet Christina Butcher for this thoughtful review (and a plug for my chapbooks, too!).

  2. Reblogged this on DL Fowler's Blog and commented:
    Poignant portrayal of the psychological cost of a war between brothers. The choice between union and disunion at a personal, rather than political, level. I highly recommend.

  3. I suppose the comparison with Cormac McCarthy is inevitable, given that ‘Hagridden’ is grim and violent, and set on or beyond the pale of American civilisation. But I think its a comparison that can be taken too far. Snoek-Brown’s and McCarthy’s use of language differ – the latter’s is sparser and deliberately sparing with conventions of punctuation, particularly in ‘The Road’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’ – and ‘Hagridden’ is shorter and not as relentless as ‘Blood Meridian’, in which each incidence of hunger, rags, dirt, horror, and blood is simply a peak beyond which there is a higher peak. McCarthy subverts the Western and the post-Apocalypse genres, where Snoek-Brown pays undisguised tribute to classic Japanese cinema. McCarthy can make you stop and think about… well… the way you think and the principles by which you make judgments (as in the coin-toss episode at the gas station in ‘No Country for Old Men’); Snoek-Brown, particularly in his short stories, leaves you with a sense that you have read an almost neo-modernist text, a slice of observation, a narrative cut from a larger narrative and all the more intriguing for that. Snoek-Brown can be surprisingly gentle and compassionate in the grimmest of situations – I’m thinking of his short story where a man visits and revisits the decomposing corpse of a young woman. I love the way he does it – once, as an exercise, I tried to write a short story that split the difference between McCarthy and Snoek-Brown, and I think I failed, which indicates to me that each author is discrete and inimitable.

    One minor detail in which the two authors do come closer is that neither the two main characters of ‘Hagridden’ and ‘The Road’ are named. But as I said, that is a minor detail. Given the choice between reading McCarthy and Snoek-Brown, I would read the next McCarthy novel in appreciation of a literary event, but would approach each new work by Snoek-Brown for sheer pleasure. He’s one of the best less-well-known authors I know. If not the best!

    Marie Marshall
    by Dundee, Scotland

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