Several years back, a man I greatly admire, film critic Roger Ebert turned to the internet to explore how others reacted to a film. He described their quotes as "dealing with their feelings"
That's what Hagridden will do. Make you deal with your feelings.
Hagridden is a simple construct wrapped in complexities built around two female primary characters, who by being victims of circumstance, have to do horrible, reprehensible things to survive in the Louisiana marsh as the Civil War is flaming out.
And Sam Snoek-Brown makes you feel empathy, even sympathy for them as they murder without restraint.
It takes a hell of a writer to do that.
Much like the Japanese horror film, "Onibaba", the story centers on a woman, and a girl, and they go by no more for names than that, living alone and like feral animals. This after the loss of both their husbands, one in the war. They are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law which complicates things as "the girl" wants to shirk loneliness with a returned soldier.
Things get darker as they struggle to survive, drowning in fear, paranoia, and hatred, particularly the woman, who's only real tie to the world and reality is the girl. Characters with malicious intent and dripping hatred wander this landscape, and Hagridden really makes you come to terms with the concept of "the lesser of two evils" as you try to hash out your understanding of these poor souls while they do what you would never consider. Snoek-Brown's book creates a nature of lethal violence becoming as easy as you or I would buy something we take for granted.
You become immersed in the Hagridden world as you are repelled by it and one of the reasons that is so easy is Snoek-Brown's attention to detail. He's steeped in his knowledge of individual locales as well as real characters and battles of the back end of the civil war. Equally as sharp is his vivid and detailed, yet at times wistful descriptions of the day to day minutiae of surviving the unforgiving beauty of delta swamp life and second nature gruel of existence in this time and place, that seems alien to us now.
Just as real is his grasp of human loneliness and sadness and how they tie to desperations within. Snoek-Brown details how quickly those emotions lead to free-wheeling lust and need, and just as quickly to greed, suspicion, betrayal and murder.
Hagridden isn't just a story, it's an experience. And as Ebert described "Halloween", you're not just reading it, it's "happening to you." Sam Snoek-Brown has created a quietly violent world, enhanced by the lack of quotation marks in it's dialogue, where the silence of it's brutality is just as unsettiling as it's reality.