Hark by John R Gordon is a profound and vibrant foray into America’s shared dark past, told from the perspective of a teenage, interracial gay couple as they grapple with the complexities of racism in their dying Southern town.
Cleve is toying with a life of criminality when a last minute change of heart puts him at the wrong place at the wrong time. Roe wants to take a stand in a dying town built on the blood and tears of his enslaved ancestors. When the wrong time becomes the right place, something kindles between them.
And then, there is Hark. A supernatural vagabond, or dangerous conman?
When the three meet, a town’s dark history proves not to be so far removed, and the two lovers must learn to face the scars of history in front of them.
Wow. Simply, wow.
The first quarter of this book reads like a combination of a retelling of events and a history of the town and it’s occupants. I found the way Gordon weaved in the narrative with the history unique, with subtle hints to future happenings.
But no word is wasted. You’ll need every bit of detail to understand the complexity of what is about to happen. The story of Cleve, Hark and Roe takes a supernatural twist I hadn’t expected about halfway through, even knowing that there would be more fantastical elements in the story. There is nothing in Hark that is predictable, and I found Gordon’s technique refreshing because of this.
The town is described so vividly that I could practically smell the lemons on the trees in Roe’s neighborhood and the decaying leaves in the woods. The picture he paints with words is so full and vibrant that you can’t help but feel like you’re there—even at the times you wish you weren’t.
Most important of all: Hark had one of the most profound endings of any book I have read. Not just this year—ever. I am still reeling over how perfect and deeply important the events are, and how much they mean regarding our shared histories.
Should You Read It?
(As always, if you’re concerned about triggers, check the Trigger Warnings at the bottom of the review.)
Should you read Hark by John R. Gordon?
(I was tempted to leave this section at that, because I think this is a book that unilaterally needs to be read, but for sake of conversation, let’s break it down..)
I’m a white, Midwestern American who’s also lived in Southern and Western states at different times of my adult life. I may not have lived every culture America has to offer, but I’ve seen enough to know that the conversations and realities that Gordon illuminates in Hark need to be highlighted and faced.
Racism isn’t a reality that I live. I don’t understand the intricacies or depths of what it means to be persecuted for being black in America (and other countries,) and no matter how much I learn, I never will. At the same time, if I purport to be anti-racist, I still need to try.
When I picked up Hark, I had a feeling that some things were going to click for me, but I had no idea how much. Gordon does a lot of work bridging that gap between cultures, and I thank him for his dedication to this project. Reading this book truly made me think deeply on racism in ways I haven’t had to before, and will continue to make me think (and learn) for a long time to come.
The beauty of Hark is that even though Gordon deals with heavy issues, the progression of thought feels completely natural. In the love forming between Cleve and Roe, we see how they think about the reactions of each others’ families and neighbors, considering how each other interprets their actions and words, and even about the perception of their respective homes.
That doesn’t even go into the nuances of homophobia in both Cleve and Roe’s cultures, or how Gordon tackles classism. His approach is very honest and open, not missing any beats, leaving the prose feeling raw and unfiltered.
Just like Roe is the seed that opens Cleve’s eyes to the experience of being black in America, I feel that Hark can be what opens the eyes of many others as to our shared histories and how the roots of yesterday bear the fruit of today.
Not only do I think most of us should read this, I think a lot of us need to read this book.
Trigger Warnings: Racism, Homophobia, Murder (Including Lynching), Drug Addiction, Disordered Eating, Fatphobia
(I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)