Nell Barber, an expelled PhD candidate in Biological Science, is exploring the fine line between poison and antidote. Surrounded by an ex, a best friend, a boyfriend, and a husband, the two scientists are tangled together at the center of a web of illicit relationships, grudges, and obsessions.
... 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.