Book Review: “Hush Girls” by Emily Hansen

I guess this year is going to be a theme of writing book reviews for books I can’t find info on online. This time it’s Hush Girls which came out this year but in a limited print run. This is the second book by Emily Hansen I’ve read. The other is Grimm and White.

This book is fairly different from Grimm and White. Both are somewhat dark and have a fairy tale vibe. But Hush Girls is a collection of vignettes about women and girls from the late 90’s to 2095 in a town called Hush where things are dark and also a little weird. A town where “strange things happen” and it’s:

“Not curious enough that anyone would make the mistake of calling them magical in nature, but odd enough that when the psychic at the end of the street tells you, Stay inside. Your death is imminent, you listen.”

The stories don’t go in chronological order instead bits and pieces of one vignette hints at another and a piece of that thread gets later pulled and examined before being added to the over all tapestry of Hush.

There are 7 vignettes in the collection starting with “Someone Survives” set in 2010 which follows Juliet whose teeth keep mysteriously falling out. While it’s set in 2010 it does dip into the past, of the death of her brother, the mystery of the bats that live in the woods and a bit more about the town of Hush, “a not so quiet place”. While this isn’t my favorite in the collection I understand why it came first as a lot of things discussed or mentioned by Juliet are expanded upon, even if by the smallest glimmer, in later vignettes. It’s the jumping off point, a ripple that effects the stories set in the future and the past.

The second vignette is the second shortest in the series and the main character of this chapter isn’t actually in Hush, the first of a few. Instead “Replacing Lightbulbs” is set in New York City and follows what happened to Leah, a mystery Juliet wonders about in her story. This vignette is set in 1998 and shortly follow’s Leah’s disappearance from Hush after the death of her sister and her nyctophobia, “extreme or irrational fear of the night or of darkness.”

“Murder Party” is the third vignette and is set in 2017 and has a change in format. The narrator of the story, the main character, is a host of a podcast called “Murder Party” where she gives advice to listeners about how not to get murdered while also trying to come to terms with the murder of her mother and sister. These clips break up a secondary plot of her relationship with Tyler and revenge on bystanders who did nothing when she was mugged. This story is in second place for the longest and I’ve realized the longer ones were more enjoyable for me. It gave me an actual bite to enjoy rather than just a taste.

“Foul is Fair” is set in 1999 and follows Billy who suffers from nightmarish sleep. Something like night terrors or sleep paralysis, filled with absolutely horrifying monsters in her sleep but not quite one or the other, something in the middle but also different. She sleep walks, she is filled with monsters and her dreams are filled with absolute torture to the point she might’ve murdered someone as a kid and can’t always tell what is reality and what’s a dream. Billy is another ripple hinted at from “Someone Survives” as she lives in the creepy Gallows Mannor with her husband Jerry. Jerry is an actor who is not handling the nightmarish house Gallows Mannor well. The opposite of Billy who finds the house soothing and helping with her nightmarish sleep. Gallows Mannor is a cheap house for it’s creepy factors and multiple deaths or missing people. One including a woman who shot herself in the chest twice and whose son has been missing ever since. This story is the longest in the book and my favorite.

“Poisoned Roots” is a reverse of “Replacing Lightbulbs” instead of a girl escaping Hush it’s a woman who ran away and found herself in Hush and tried to start a new life, albiet an attached yet aloof life. This one is set in 2035 and is the first set in the future. It doesn’t suggest or recommend a futuristic lifestyle or a grand change in our world. Instead it follows that humans and relationships are fallible, yet leaves hints for the final vignette.

“Ursa Minor” is the second to last vignette and the one I greatly wanted an expansion on. It’s the other story set outside of Hush: in Walking, Wisconsin in 1997. This is another pulled thread from “Someone Survives” that I wish was just a bit more clearer rather than vague. Though that’s probably the art of it. This vignette follows Roxanne and her brother to their summers on the lake and their friendship with the Quinns who don’t live in Hush so they don’t know everything about Roxanne and Davey, whose mother was murdered when they were younger. They grow up with the Quinns: Ray, a dark temperamental boy and Lucy, his beautiful older sister. Roxanne is dealing in the now with her brother going off to college and leaving her alone with their father, an surgeon whose bible she’s looked at and found something shocking and unsettling that might answer a question from “Someone Survives” or might just be about her father’s relationships with women, some not the right age for him, which is also equally unsettling. It’s unclear from the open ending of the vignette if it’s both or just the latter and the matter isn’t settled which let the unsettled vibe Roxanne had transcend the book and settle into my bones.

The final story of Hush Girls is set in 2095 and is the shortest of the vignettes. It’s titled “Three Pomegranates” and is inspired by André Masson’s “In the Tower of Sleep, 1938” or “Dans le tour du somneil”. André Masson was a French surrealist artist who was born in the late 1890’s and passed away in 1987. His art is considered “chaotic, with themes of sexuality, violence, metamorphosis, and death with after effects of the trauma of war” from having experienced World War I. With the piece “In the Tower of Sleep, 1938” he is quoted saying  it “came from a memory of war…a figure lying in the trench with his head split open.”  On his own art he’s stated

” My painting tends towards expressionist paroxysm I recognize it. Horrible menageries. Troubling metamorphoses. Irritating furniture. Complete discomfort in cold delirium. All that very grating.”

The piece, “In the Tower of Sleep, 1938” is on display in the Baltimore Museum of Art. You can check out what this war inspired nightmare surrealist painting looks like here.

The story “Three Pomegranates” is about a young girl on her 13th birthday in the dystopian future of Hush where most forms of expression have been banned. Like many of the heroines within Hush Girls, Abigail has a family member who is dead, in her case it’s her mother. Through Abigail’s eyes and her mental drawings which are interrupted by a lack of knowledge, we learn more about the new world, the changes, the loss and how this story neatly ties us back to the beginning of “Someone Survives”.

Overall this collection of vignettes, 144 pages in total, shares not just the stories of the women and girls who tell their tales but also of the town of Hush throughout time, moving from the present to the past as they retell their histories that explain more about them, who they are and how they got there and how they try to deal with the trauma and loss within their lives. I enjoyed how the stories were subtly interwoven and as I read I’d think “That sounds familiar, why?” and would flip back and re-read the small snippet that had hinted towards what I was currently reading. It’s a quick read, and feels very fitting for a spooky October reading list.

The Hush Girl’s short story collection, while a limited run, can be purchased here.

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