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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

Beneath an oak tree that was massive and gnarled, the oldest of the stones were small and unmarked. Johnny dreamed of them more often than he liked. Hanged slaves under a hanging tree . . . That was county history, and dark.

* Corbie Hill, “When It Came Time to Write a New Novel, John Hart Turned to Familiar Territory – His Native North Carolina,” News & Observer 19 Feb. 2018: web.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY SUSAN SHINN TURNER; COURTESTY OF THE SALISBURY POST

wooded home and being nurtured by it in return: “Sap rose in the trees, and he felt it, same with the birds and beetles, the crawling vines and the flowers that followed the sun” (102). One of the novel’s least likeable characters is William Boyd, a big game hunter who exploits the land for trophies. Johnny shoots up Boyd’s camp after discovering that Boyd has killed a massive mother bear and orphaned her two helpless cubs while trespassing on Johnny’s property. Boyd’s ultimate fate emphasizes the novel’s green sensibilities. Perhaps the most significant theme is the relationship of the past to the present, particularly as it relates to the legacy of slavery in the United States. As Hart said in an interview, “The book is very much about time as a tapestry and the threads that stretch forwards and back. It’s impossible to escape the history of slavery in the South, especially today.”* Hart develops this theme by revealing the secrets of Hush Arbor, the former slaves who once inhabited it, and their former white owners who were Johnny’s ancestors. As Verdine, a descendant of the former slaves, tells Johnny, “Time is truly the thinnest of things” (253). Through the recurring dreams of the descendants of slaves and slaveholders, the novel suggests that no one can escape the damage done by slavery and the deeds of their predecessors:

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It was family history, too. (18; ellipses and emphasis in novel)

And through the literal unearthing of a body, Hart reminds readers that, although we may attempt to bury and forget the pain of the past, it lives on beneath the surface, causing continued misery. The best aspects of this novel remind me of Toni Morrison or William Faulkner, particularly Faulkner’s iconic line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” which Hart dramatizes somewhat more literally than Faulkner did. As in Morrison’s Beloved, the supernatural elements in The Hush seem mostly necessary and believable in the fictional universe Hart creates. The themes Hart explores have been examined to similar ends before, but the supernatural elements of the plot give them a new countenance here. Despite the weighty themes and compelling plot, stylistically Hart is no Morrison or Faulkner, which may be good news to many

readers. The style more closely resembles that of his friend and fellow novelist, John Grisham, and this was one element that I found off-putting until I became fully immersed in the story. For example, the frequent one-line paragraphs inserted for dramatic effect – “This place. / His life” (2) – seem heavy handed and overused, appearing six times on pages two and three alone. In addition, Hart uses the narrator’s access to Johnny’s thoughts to reveal aspects of his character, but sometimes the lines seem more for the reader’s benefit than organic to the character himself: “He was forgetting; he could feel it. Forgetting how to relate, to be a part of . . . this [society]” (8). By page fifty, however, I was so absorbed in the novel that these stylistic tendencies ceased to bother me. I enjoyed the novel and I’d recommend it to other readers, but I doubt that I will ever teach it because stronger stylists have made these points before. n

ABOVE “Thrillers! An Evening with John Grisham and John Hart,” moderated by

North Carolina Bookwatch host D.G. Martin in Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh, NC, 23 Feb. 2018

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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