I should just leave the review at that but nah. I wouldn’t do that to you, my dear readers!
Reading “Hex” I learned way more about witch tits than I ever wanted to know. Which, in all fairness, was nothing because I had never actually thought about them before. I was so excited to read “Hex”. At first glance, it seems to be the quintessential October read – the PERFECT segue to my favorite month of the year. And to its credit, “Hex” starts strong.
The town of Black Spring is being terrorized by the ghost of Katherine van Wyler, known more commonly as The Black Rock Witch and more affectionately as gramma by the more adjusted residents. You pretty much know Katherine’s history from the get-go so there’s no real mystery there. In the good ol’ 1600’s she was accused of being a witch, killed, and then had her mouth and eyes sewn shut. I mean, stupid townspeople! Everyone knows that you don’t bury a witch, you burn them! Problem solved, sorry about your now non-existent book. Anyways! The land is permanently cursed and The Black Rock Witch is the one fixture of Black Springs, New York that the settlers can’t seem to shake.
Overall, it’s a cool idea with a instantly likable creep factor. Adding to the eeriness is the fact that Katherine doesn’t even directly interact with the townspeople. She alternates between following a fixed route and randomly popping in at the homes of the various residents just to watch them while they’re sleeping for days on end or to freak out their pets. Better yet, the town has learned to work around her hauntings in order to keep outsiders at bay – using her as a prop at harvest festivals, surrounding her with a choir comprised of old women, or even just hanging a dishtowel over her to cover ‘dat face. Combined with an app called HEX, they are able to track and prevent the curse of Black Springs from spreading to outsiders. Because here’s the thing: once you settle in Black Springs, you can never leave and if you try bad things will happen to you. Spoiler Alert: YOU DIE.
Initially, I was completely riveted while reading “Hex”. It has a fresh, modern feel and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. At it’s closure, however, I had far too many unanswered questions and I felt as if the author was not completely committed to the type of book he wanted it to be. It definitely embraces the fervor of the Salem Witch Trials, but there are also influences from so many other horror standbys – Pet Sematary, The Wicker Man, The Lottery, and even The Ring (Ringu if it’s your preference) just to name a few. It makes for a slightly muddled, watered-down experience overall.
So here were some of my issues:
Several times throughout the book Heuvelt mentions that Katherine follows a schedule. She walks down the main thoroughfare at this time, she is always in the woods at this time, etc. But then she would randomly appear in people’s homes with no warning and there was never any rhyme or reason to these occurrences. I’m sure it would not make a difference to most readers, but I personally needed some significance to these deviations.
When Katherine does do something out of character, it ends up being the literary equivalent of a “jump-scare”. Like, you can literally picture the exact scene from The Ring that it is borrowed from sans television. Katherine is even described as “flashing” from one spot to another a couple feet away. Shrug. Okay.
Another issue I had with the book overall is the complete rewrite that was done for the American market. This book would have been so much better if it was still set in the quaint Dutch village of the original publishing. Now that’s something that I haven’t read before! It’s pretty insulting to assume that Americans just wouldn’t read the book at all if it doesn’t take place in America. So, I don’t fully comprehend the motivation for the rewrite and I would love to know what else was changed in the American version.
Oh and yeah, it’s pretty misogynistic. There are a few random mentions about nipples and breasts (often enough to where it was noticeable), a descriptive scene of breast mutilation and some further whacked-out mammary imagery. These incidents/descriptions are not always coming from the viewpoints of the hormonal, teen-aged male protagonists, either. A character is raped and, even though it’s not overly descriptive, it’s there and kind of glossed over. Oh yeah, and when people hear Katherine whispering or if they leave the town for prolonged periods, the men always have suicidal thoughts but the women have visions of having sex with goats and THEN have suicidal thoughts. Dammit, it’s 2018! Equal opportunity goat sex hallucinations for all! *wink*
Finally, since you know Katherine’s history from the beginning, there is no big reveal towards the end besides people are terrible. Duh. I live in the world every damn day. Katherine herself, however, is wildly inconsistent. She’s part tragic victim. She’s part harbinger of death. She’s part inactive bystander. She’s part motherfucking witch making the rivers run with blood. And while I never could get a clear picture as to her true motivations, the description of her grey, witchy nipples will unfortunately be burned forever into my memory.