Hart is a brilliant writer, and his descriptions of the Hush — the fictitious Raven County is somewhere in the swampy and wildlife-rich lands of eastern North Carolina — are powerfully evocative.Powerful too are his glimpses into the past, into the very real evils of slavery and what really transpired between Johnny’s ancestors and the Freemantles. The new literary territory Hart ventures into in The Hush is the supernatural. There are things that happen in the Hush, in the past and today, that will require some serious suspension of disbelief on the part of Hart’s more literally minded readers. But everything — the legal machinations, wild nature, tangled history, mystery, even the magical and mystical forces — works together to create a story that grips the reader and lingers in the imagination.
Hush Arbor truly is a haunted place, and the origins of that haunting go back to the days of the African slave trade. Hart skillfully weaves that history into the primary story. Set pieces recounting some of the region’s more horrific encounters are among the highlights of an engrossing, cumulatively disturbing narrative that encompasses murder, madness, magic, betrayal and obsessive, undying love. The result is unlike anything Hart has done before. The intertwining narratives involving John Merrimon, the Freemantles and their quest to possess the land and its secrets are consistently compelling, but Hart’s central achievement is his vivid, hallucinatory portrait of Hush Arbor itself ... With its supernatural overtones and blurring of genre boundaries, The Hush may well seem like an anomaly. Regardless, readers should happily follow along into its hypnotic world.
The Hush is a novel that is reminiscent of many Southern Gothic novels: hanging trees, slave graveyards, gritty characters who have seen the inexplicable, and a history that refuses to be buried. While reading The Last Child first may help give some insight into the relationship between Johnny—the 'Little Chief'—and Jack (and it will definitely fill in some gaps with Johnny’s family), Hart manages to weave the rich backstory into his narrative without a hiccup. The two men are fully drawn characters with a relationship that is easy to get behind ... The Hush is a visceral, atmospheric novel covering 6,000 acres and 150 years of troubled history. John Hart has written a worthy follow-up to his well-received The Last Child. Readers old and new will look up from the pages sometime around midnight, flooded with relief that they’re safe in bed and not out in the twisting trails of Hush Arbor.
The Hush is strongest when Hart concentrates on the evocative setting, heightened by a strong sense of place with Hush Arbor. But the magical realism aspects do not resonate and become increasingly far-fetched. The beautiful North Carolina scenery is what is remembered from The Hush, not the characters. Johnny, so well-sculpted in The Last Child, is a mere shadow of himself and Hart doesn’t delve deeply enough into his psyche
It can be jarring when a seemingly realistic novel suddenly jumps into full supernatural mode, but Hart handles the transition seamlessly. He has always worked on the edges of southern gothic, so his genre-bending leap seems less dramatic than it might otherwise. Moreover, his vivid evocation of Hush Arbor and the ghosts it shelters, extending back to slavery, carries a Faulknerian density that makes the idea of the past coming alive deep in a swamp feel not only believable but also inevitable. Hart makes it six for six here, and behind this uncanny string of success is a rare ability to combine the most propulsive of popular fiction with beguilingly rich characters (Johnny is the black-sheep first cousin to Quentin Compson).
Hart’s prose is as evocative as ever, but fans who admire his work when it’s confined to the natural world may feel that his adroit explorations of human nature aren’t improved by fantastical plot elements.
Alas, the many references to secrets and strange occurrences in the place may tire more than they intrigue the reader, who will readily agree when, near the end, a character muses that 'There is no normal in the Hush. There is only story and magic.' Hart links the magic of the place to fact, flashing back to vividly written depictions of the arrival of slaves in the Colonies. At the expense of characterization—Johnny, in particular, never emerges as a fully drawn protagonist, and secondary characters verge on stereotypes—Hart vigorously renders this tragic history and its aftermath as a nightmare of violent, supernatural forces. After spinning its wheels in its first half, Hart’s novel becomes a chilling tale that’s hard to shake.