Several months ago I wrote a post about Natalie Giarratano’s debut poetry collection, Leaving Clean. Natalie and I attended the University of North Texas together where we were both working on a Masters Degree. Today, I have the pleasure of writing about another talented writer and friend from my days in Denton, Sam Snoek-Brown.
Sam’s debut novel, Hagridden, came out this summer and I just finished it last weekend. It is a gritty, gripping tale of two women attempting to survive in the Louisiana bayou at the end of the Civil War. There is much to admire in this novel, but what brought me into the story immediately was the characterization of the two women. As is probably true of most women who are avid readers and writers themselves, I am hungry for strong, complex depictions of women in fiction and this novel does not disappoint. From the opening scene where these two protagonists work together to dispatch some soldiers who are unlucky enough to come across them in the swamp, I am awed, intrigued and terrified.
Survival is the primary focus of these two women at the start but as outside forces begin to intrude on the small world they’ve carved out for themselves, that idea of survival begins to shift. It is the dynamic between these two women combined with this theme of survival that creates a series of powerful and damaging conflicts throughout the novel. These two women are carefully sculpted and their motivations are complex. As the younger woman begins to pull away from her older companion, I felt both triumph in her attempt to move beyond mere survival but also pangs of sympathy for the older mother who has lost her child, her husband, her companion and soon, her mind. It is not difficult to see why holding onto the younger woman is important, but in a starkly vulnerable moment when she rocks her daughter-in-law like a child, we see just how deep her desperation goes.
Once of my favorite passages in the novel is when the older woman is wounded and the description that follows:
The woman woke in the morning with her cheek bright red and a yellow stain like spilled iodine seeping down the skin of her neck from under the blood-crusted rag.
The woman’s neck cords strained like a banjo wire and she bared her gritted teeth as she peeled at the rag, little tears in the scabbing and the rag alike, and when it came away it left fine hairs of cotton stuck in the wound and the two inch cleft seeped a blood gooey and black like tar. (43)
I’ve never been to the Louisiana bayou but I imagine it to be much like the language that fills the pages of Hagridden, dark, deep and dense.
Hagridden is book grounded in history and myth and the women of the novel spend much of their time examining both through a variety of different lenses. The world they live in is born of violence, but there are also moments of humanity that remind the reader that these characters are indeed human beings who are capable of compassion, and even more importantly, love.
Order your copy of Hagridden here.