... a closed-system terrarium of a book. Contained and bewitching, Hex is a love letter, a diary, a scientific study of relationships and desire ... This concise novel is filled with these oddball turns of phrase and gratifying metaphors. Hex’s quotable, polished whimsy would be tiring in the hands of someone less skilled than Knight, but there’s a lush darkness here, and her tight, poetic language bolsters the novel’s intellectual New York hipster cool to become something more verdant, more unexpected ... Sentences take startling turns, and convention is paired with oddity, style with dirt ... tender and enchanting ... ultimately succeeds as a catalogue of desire, dependency, and attraction.
I came to Hex, Knight’s second novel, not knowing her previous work ... Meeting the novel on its own terms, then, without expectation, I struggled to gauge what exactly those terms were. There’s much that appears self-serious, even as it relishes the twee and bathetic. Nell might argue that, like a poison and its antidote, such opposites can be more alike than they are different; but it would take a better book than Hex to prove it ... As it is, the book’s wisest moments read like fortune cookies. The devotional format strains to contain a high volume of bit-part back stories and anecdotal asides that Nell, 'born observant,' records in lieu of scientific data. The gratuitous descriptions choke...and it can be hard to see the characters through all their quirks...moving about as though with lifeless stage direction and sending up convoluted thought bubbles in their every interaction ... Even consistency is sacrificed for style ... Some paragraphs begin promisingly, only to end in sentences that make you wish she’d quit while she was ahead ... Despite what the book jacket promises, then, Hex is about as 'spooky' as a creaky door that won’t stop creaking. If a spell is language that makes something happen, this one fails to make magic.
We swirl through Nell’s thoughts and while sometimes strange, they feel intricately tied to the way many of us have experienced a love that is so overpowering and unattainable it seems to swallow us whole ... The working minds of Knight’s characters are simultaneously so precise that they feel scientific and so familiar to one’s own life experience that they feel magical. Nell is seemingly distracted at times but is actually astoundingly and delightfully perceptive, and she reveals the complex truths of this story deftly and easily ... With this small, powerful cast, Hex reels you in slowly, with easy introductions to the landscape of these characters’ relationships ... a book for those who feel adrift and solitary, for those who feel overwhelmed by themselves. Ultimately, it’s a story about harnessing what is out of control—and learning that perhaps the only way to control a poisonous thing is to first embrace it.
... strange and delightful ... The pleasure of reading Hex comes largely from Nell's insistent belief that her life is priceless. Even at her lowest, she never doubts that she deserves beauty and joy, if she can find them. This is unusual in contemporary fiction ... In another writer's hands, Nell might seem loopy, or like a manic pixie. Dinerstein Knight occasionally skates close to the latter edge. What saves her is her prose style, which oscillates between abstract, conversational, and straight-up weird.
... swift-moving, sardonic ... Dinerstein Knight paints a withering portrait of this web of toxic romances, and of the excesses of academia, while illustrating how both the heart and the mind can be broken and reshaped by changing circumstances.
Poking at the membranes between poisons and their antidotes, monuments and their ruins, and life and death, Nell’s confessional word-tumbles are this book’s most special feature. Knight writes in a distinctive, addictive, and poetic style in which every sentence provokes and nothing is predictable.
...it was only a matter of time before flowers, and poison, and desire featured together in a novel about queer longing ...It’s a setup reminiscent of Dangerous Liaisons ... The real witchcraft of this book is in its prose. Knight’s Nell, thirstiest of cacti, prickly with sadness, projects her longing, grief, exile, and loneliness onto the object of desire. In each invocatory chapter, you feel the poison and withdrawal symptoms. You believe her desire and her new adult desperation and confusion. You hear her whyyyyyyyyyyy ... The thorn of this book has something to do with this Dangerous Liaisons business, combined with cleverness, combined with Nell’s desire. As the trimesters and chapters wear on, there are times when I wished the shimmer would part so I could land in the narrator’s feelings–about losing a collaborator to poison, about all her former colleagues and friends sleeping with one another and telling each other about it in Bond Villain-style one liners...about what it means that a kind of attraction she didn’t have the words for before is manifesting right now in queer time. If the narrator can be so cleverly flip about these things, I am not sure I can always feel them–if spells, sadness, etc are not felt, I can’t tell if they’re metaphorical or real–and it’s sometimes hard to care.
Whereas the novel demonstrates moments of emotional intensity and humor, Hex's proclivity towards toxicity is overburdening ... Whereas the novel progresses, Nell's awareness does not. She dwells in an arrested emotional and physical space: she never exhibits growth ... Her languor is so overpowering that it burdens the entire narrative. She becomes repellent ... Hex is written as a journal in the second-person narrative, therefore Nell's love for Joan is fully experiential. But Joan's inability to respond to Nell with an iota of humanity is the novel's truest calamity ... At no point does Hex portray smart women as functional or collegial. Readers will certainly disconnect from these obnoxious characters ... Hex's strongest writing captures botanical histories. Dinerstein Knight relies on alchemy and herbalism ... Unfortunately, there is no equilibrium and Hex fails to beautify.
Though Knight again displays some of the talent that made her debut novel, the exotic and wistful The Sunlit Night, so appealing, this effort doesn’t deliver on its promise to either unsettle or entertain ... Nell’s ruminations on life and love spill onto the page in edgy profusion. Veering between acute self-awareness and emotional obtuseness, the fact that their objects often aren’t sufficiently consequential to evoke sustained interest mostly renders them more clever than profound ... like so much of the novel, these threads, though intriguing, never become part of the weave of an emotionally satisfying tapestry. While Hex has its tantalizing moments, in the end there aren’t enough of them to bring the reader under its spell.
Despite the darker-side-of-academia premise, Hex is less Donna Tartt and more Ottessa Moshfegh: sardonic and strange. The novel is a delightfully odd pastiche of courtly love ... There’s a rhythmic mannerism to the novel that hypnotises even as it bewilders ... confessional and confounding; sometimes, plain weird. But, with its dark humour and loopy lyricism, it bewitches.
... arresting ... Nell’s intensity and the hypnotic, second-person prose convincingly render the protagonist’s bewitched, self-destructive state. Readers who liked I Love Dick and want something more lurid will appreciate this.
This may be the first novel I’ve read that illustrates the other side of the quirky coin. It’s playful! Eccentric! Plants are involved! You really have no idea how a particular sentence is going to conclude, even when you’re approaching the end of it ... Who wouldn’t be interested? Well, I can think of one person. Midway through the book I Googled it and found a bad review in the New York Times. I didn’t find the complaints convincing or the evidence of badness credible — but hey, different strokes. The Times reviewer described the prose style as 'peacocking' but I just think it’s 'rather good.'
... a lush and brooding novel, over-the-top in its foreboding, with Dinerstein Knight walking the delicate line—mostly successfully—between the Grecian and the absurd. As a string of weirdly mannered sentences, it is a joyfully deranged pleasure; as a novel, though, the experience is frustratingly hollow, populated by characters who only come to life in the book’s final third ... Admirably bold if sometimes hard to care about.