I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Samuel Snoek-Brown’s upcoming release, Hagridden, from Columbus Press. I first heard of the book when the author came to talk to us in an advanced fiction writing class I took at Mount Hood Community College. I asked him if I could do a paragraph review, and he was generous enough to send me a .pdf version of the book.
The story is one of two women trying to survive while stranded in a Louisiana bayou as The Civil War comes to an end. The summary says, “Shaded in Southern Gothic and classical motifs while written in a sharp contemporary style, Hagridden presents a strangely beautiful world where humanity plays the contradictory roles of protagonist and antagonist.” The blend of styles, and the possibilities of humanity playing both sides of the coin, left me wanting to learn more.
So, today, I opened the file, closed my eyes, and let the scrollbar do its thing. When I opened my eyes, they landed on this paragraph on page 37:
“Afterward, the general set up some hospital tents and put them Yankees in to rest up for a march, cause they was all wounded some way or other, and we encamped for the night. But they was these screams all in the night, not nothing we ain’t heard before but they was so much of it that some of us went to have a looksee. And they was Whelan and a couple of boys from his old unit, them rougarous, they playing some foot ball out in the moonlight, and when we come up on them we seen they was kicking around a head. I mean one them Yankee’s heads, cut clean off and rolling out they in the grass.”
The voice in the paragraph struck me immediately. I wanted to scroll through the rest of the book and see if it was all in this voice, but that would be cheating on the paragraph review. Because I love you, Dear Reader, I restrained myself. (The second this gets approved for publication, on the site, though, you know what I’m doing.)
You know what else I love? The image of battle-torn soldiers screaming in the night, the darkness dragging their cries into longer and louder stretches, warping them into the bugle cries of banshees. Enough so that the learned normalcy of cries in the night for our narrator is broken open all over again into sleeplessness.
And what does the moonlight focus on for this voice we are following? A group of “boys” playing a game together. Shaking off some stress, reinforcing bonds created in war, practicing the teamwork that during battle saved or lost lives; a moving landscape of silhouettes reaching for some sense of their old lives as their worlds are being redefined. And then, as we grow closer to this weighted image, we discover that making lemonade from lemons can be a gruesome process. Don’t have a ball to use for the game? Use a human head. A Yankee head. And who is Whelan to the narrator? A son, brother, friend? I need to know.
Paragraph Review’s conclusion for the week? Go get that book! Of course, you will have to wait until August 19, 2014, when Columbus Press officially releases it.
To tide you over, I’ve included a preview of the cover above.