‘The Hush’ by John Hart

As I read this powerful novel for the third time, I wonder why I didn’t review it in February of 2019 when it was published as a sequel to Hart’s The Lost Child. The book is dark, features a forbidding land of swamps and woods where outsiders get lost or killed, is fawned over by hunters and a family who has gone to court to extract it from owner Johnny Merrimon, and is as close to Johnny as his psyche.

“The Hush” refers to a hush arbor, one of many places where slaves worshipped in private to avoid trouble with their owners. The lives of slaves and the Merrimons are tangled together on this property in ways that even the current generation don’t know–though stronger and stronger dreams are hinting at the sins of the past.

I’ve read many of Hart’s books. All of them are strong–visceral, almost–and well written. This one–for me–is the strongest novel because of the linkage between the land, the people, and the folklore.

“The Hush,” wrote Washington Post reviewer Bill Sheehan, “is a harsh, inimical landscape in which disorientation rules and trees, paths and familiar landmarks seem to shift and disappear. It is a self-contained world in which unwelcome visitors are sometimes driven to madness and sometimes destroyed, and Hart evokes that surreal landscape with a power and economy worthy of the great British horror novelist Ramsey Campbell. ‘In that first hour, the forest was still,’ Hart writes, ‘but as light strengthened, a dawn chorus rose around them, a symphony of catbird and Carolina wren, of mourning dove and cardinal and the deep-throated gunk of green frogs in the pocosins that fingered up from the distant swamp.’”

In this novel, the reader doesn’t escape from the land which, perhaps, is the real protagonist, though most of the townspeople see Johnny as more an inexplicable anomaly than the land he owns–to the extent anyone can own such land as this.  His best friend Jack, who suffered through the past with him in The Lost Child, risks everything to help him. That might prove impossible.

Multiple readings of novels tend to bring out secrets we didn’t notice the first time through. When it comes to The Hush, those of us who seek out the mysteries of land and people may be too close to see the real from the unreal.

Highly recommended for readers of dark fantasy.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” magical realism set in the Florida Panhandle during the days when the KKK ruled the world.