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.