[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I do love stories set in little towns with secrets, and especially when said secrets are quite “normal” there, and only outsiders would get really shocked about them because the locals have gone... numb and used to them? It's definitely creepy, and keeps making me wonder when the crap's going to hit the fan, when the normalcy of horror will become actual horror, when the mask will be thrown away and it's showtime. Something like that.
Well, at some point it's showtime in “HEX”, clearly. The only question is “when”.
It starts with a very normal day in the lives of the Normal McNormal family, in Normal Town, USA. Except for the woman who gets crushed by an organ right at the beginning (and that's when you do a double-take and think “wait, what? I'd better pay more attention to what I'm reading.”). That's what got me from the start: the feeling that something troubling was was presented as normal, and everybody but me just went about their day without blinking an eye. Soon enough more information surfaces, through other everyday scenes: the Grant family having dinner while a mysterious “Gramma” sits in the next room with a napkin on her head... The council/local organisation policing the town keeping an eye on a couple of newcomers, desperately trying to dissuade them from buying a house in Black Spring. These first chapters were really intriguing and I couldn't wait to read more.
I didn't like this novel more, though, because I think at some point, the horror became a little too... close? As in, when you KNOW what's going to happen, when you KNOW things are going to get very wrong and you suspect how they're going to unfold, when you start foreseeing such events, there's always a risk, at least in my case, of distanciating myself from the story in advance. I guess that's what happened here, and when all the bad things befell various characters, it didn't creep me out so much anymore. Perhaps that's just my personal problem with horror stories, and I unconsciously distance myself from their events. Perhaps I don't do that all the time. It takes a very, very fine and fragile balance to take me where I'd like to be (caring about the characters, feeling invested to the point that every setback for them will be a blow for me).
The normalcy factor and many characters being a bit cliché may also have “helped” in not making me care too much : trying too much killed the effort, so to speak. The Grants look like a too perfect family (the mother doesn't do much except being the Good Wife, to be honest), the teenagers' exactions on the witch ended up being more of the sensational-seeking kind than really creepy, the HEX people were forgettable, the new couple settling in town were, in the end, just an excuse to hand out a block of information (they never did anything noteworthy after that)...
Finally, I also felt Katherine's involvement wasn't too clear : she's dangerous but she also was a victim ; there's a curse but you never know how exactly it started and/or manifests through the witch (“touching her” and “living in Black Spring” are a bit vague); so developments towards the end didn't make as much sense as would've been needed to drive the horror through. As if the plot here kept sitting on the fence, not knowing whether to go the way of humans or monsters. Which is too bad, because there's that whole theme of “the curse we inflict upon ourselves by forgetting we're humans and by turning against each other as if we had never learnt anything”.
There were “good” horror moments (the search for the dog at night...) but in the end it was an “OK” book for me, nothing more. 2 to 2.5 stars.