Years ago when I read Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel All Quiet on the Western Front about World War I, I couldn’t function for days because the book plunged its readers into the worst the world can offer. Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun also had a strong impact on me. Such novels fit into my personal fiction category of too much to bear.
Recently, I’ve been catching up on John Hart’s novels. They are invariably dark, a label that certainly describes The Hush which I finished reading last week. The Hush is a sequel to The Last Child.
The hush is an old hush arbor, a place where slaves worshipped in secret away from the prying eyes of their owners. The slaves’ focus was Christian in orientation with many of the trappings of the religious beliefs they had in Africa.
The Hush impacted me because of the novel’s descriptions of a landscape that’s filled with magic and menace to everyone but its current owner of the 6,000-acred tract. He walks at ease through his property while everyone else becomes lost, confused, or dead.
The lives of slaves and owners are intertwined on this property and the impacts of old terrors are still active in the present day. Since Johnny Merrimon is more or less an outcast, he is blamed for everything that happens on his land. Law enforcement and others want to bring him down even though nobody can prove anything.
I am in awe of Hart’s use of landscape, myths, and stories because he has the grit to do what I cannot bring myself to do. That is, I cannot bring myself to write the kind of horror that appears in All Quiet on the Western Front, Johnny Got His Gun or the novels for which John Hart keeps winning awards. I think it takes great strength for an author to write such books without ending up in an asylum.
I agree with the Washington Post’s review: “Ambitious and surprising… an engrossing, cumulatively disturbing narrative that encompasses murder, magic, madness, betrayal and obsessive, undying love. The result is unlike anything Hart has done before.”
I just wish they’d included a warning that reading the book might kill you.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”