Review: Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Imagine moving to a new house in a new town. As per
our desire to use any excuse to get drunk and have sex tradition, you and your lover christen the house on your first night of residency. In the throes of love, you notice someone standing at the foot of your bed.
Unbelievably still, the witch towers over your naked bodies. Her skin decayed, body draped in chains, her lips and eyes sewn shut. Despite this, you can feel her gaze. She’s watching your every move. If you stand really close, you just may hear the words she’s uttering behind the stitches.
Any sane person’s knee-jerk reaction to a horrifying haunting is to move the fuck out and waste no time about it. But what if you couldn’t?
What if you were trapped there forever? What if the haunting wasn’t just in your home, but the whole town?
Welcome to Black Spring. Once you move in, you can never leave. You, your neighbors, and an ancient witch who will do anything to have her bounds removed.
The story starts out unassuming enough. Your first encounter with the witch is with teenagers who were born there and take the witch about as seriously as their mothers trying to get them to do their own laundry. They throw a towel over her head and continue about their day.
She appears in the town at random. Sometimes standing in a corner, other times she wanders blindly through the streets, always muttering behind her stitches. She can appear in your bedroom while you sleep, or during family dinner in the dining room. You may find her walking next to you as you stroll through the park, or waiting for you in the produce section of the grocery store.
Harmless as she seems to be, the town is under constant surveillance. Cameras are posted, even on private property. Her whereabouts are tracked through the HEX app, where townies will update the time and location they’ve spotted her. There is clearly more going on than meets the eye. What were to happen if one of the stitches in her lips were to pop out? What does she have to say, and why did they stitch her eyes shut?
The witch got to me more than I’d like to admit. As much as I didn’t want to take her seriously, I would feel her eyes on me at home – hours after setting the book down. I would mistake a lampshade in the corner for the witch, watching in silence. The rustle of a tree would send me leaping. I saw her everywhere.
Originally written in Dutch, Thomas Olde Heuvelt went to great lengths to Americanize the novel. This was more than a translation. The locale was changed, histories were changed, characters, and apparently even the ending was adjusted to have a greater appeal to an American audience. I never would have known it. There are so many very American details, down to the news coverage of an election, it blows my mind that this was written by a foreign writer. Seriously, stand up job.
I do wonder if some of the voice or style were lost in translation, however. When I first started, the prose felt simple enough that I thought I was reading a YA, but the content and characters remained what I would expect of a typical adult horror. Perhaps that lends to the shock.
It’s a dreadful, uphill roller-coaster climb as the witch manipulates the town in pure silence. You know it’s all going to drop soon, but how high are they going to take us? The moment her plans come to light, the car plummets in all but a dead-drop and… stops before reaching the bottom.
Ah, those last few chapters. Why? I get the sense that the author had an incredible ending in mind, crafted a meticulous build-up, but as he approached that final carrot he threw his cares to the wind and leaped to grab it. It’s a hazy, confusing climax that loses sight of its characters and left me behind in the wind.
Hex could have used a few more chapters to really explore the gravity of the climax. I would have been fine with another hundred pages. As it stands, I can only wonder what could have been.
Despite my disappointment, the final scene will remain etched in my brain for eternity, and I’m still seeing the witch lurking around my home. It’s very much worth it for the journey and scares.
Magic exists in the minds of those who believe in it, not in its actual influence on reality.
Not for the first time, he noticed that even if accepting one supernatural reality came relatively easy, it didn’t mean that a second one would follow[…]
[…]there were moments that stuck with you your whole life, and they almost always had to do with life and death.
AS IN SO many fairy tales, the cruelest part is often overlooked: It’s not the depravity of the witch, but the mourning of the poor woodcutter over the loss of his children.
This is all it takes for people to plunge into insanity: one night alone with themselves and what they fear the most.