Hex: A Novel (Paperback)
One of Vanity Fair's 21 Best Books of 2020 (So Far)
A Vulture, LitHub, and PureWow Most Anticipated Book of 2020
"As precise as any scientific observation and far more tantalizing." --Vogue
"A sophisticated, surprising take on the campus novel (with a welcome dose of witchery). Knight's writing feels a little wild and charged, as if you're constantly on the edge of discovering something new with her."
"Hex is some dark and joyous witchery." --Lauren Groff, author of Florida
"A beautiful, spooky spell." --Jenny Slate, actress and author of Little Weirds
A breathtaking and hypnotic novel about poison, antidotes, and obsessive love
Nell Barber, an expelled PhD candidate in biological science, is exploring the fine line between poison and antidote, working alone to set a speed record for the detoxification of poisonous plants. Her mentor, Dr. Joan Kallas, is the hero of Nell's heart. Nell frequently finds herself standing in the doorway to Joan's office despite herself, mesmerized by Joan's elegance, success, and spiritual force.
Surrounded by Nell's ex, her best friend, her best friend's boyfriend, and Joan's buffoonish husband, the two scientists are tangled together at the center of a web of illicit relationships, grudges, and obsessions. All six are burdened by desire and ambition, and as they collide on the university campus, their attractions set in motion a domino effect of affairs and heartbreak.
Meanwhile, Nell slowly fills her empty apartment with poisonous plants to study, and she begins to keep a series of notebooks, all dedicated to Joan. She logs her research and how she spends her days, but the notebooks ultimately become a painstaking map of love. In a dazzling and unforgettable voice, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight has written a spellbinding novel of emotional and intellectual intensity.
About the Author
Rebecca Dinerstein Knight is the author of the novel and screenplay The Sunlit Night, and a collection of poems, Lofoten. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker online, among others. Born and raised in New York City, she lives in New Hampshire.
Praise for Hex:
"Strange and delightful. . . . The past half-decade has seen a spike in oddball novels about brainy women in various states of crisis; think of Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation, or Halle Butler's The New Me, or Danzy Senna's New People. These three novels succeed, in part, because their prose and protagonists are leached of joy. Dinerstein Knight inverts that strategy. She shoves joy at Nell, and makes Nell greedy for it. . . . How could a reader—or a botany professor—not be charmed?"
—Lily Meyer, NPR.org
“[A] swift moving, sardonic novel. . . . Dinerstein Knight paints a withering portrait of this web of toxic romances, and of the excesses of academia, while illustrating how both the heart and the mind can be broken and reshaped by changing circumstances.”
—The New Yorker
"As precise as any scientific observation and far more tantalizing."
"Poisonous plants, disgraced Ph.D. candidates, a cooly charismatic mentor, and a multiperson love entanglement with a shape-name more complicated than 'triangle' populate this strange, delightful novel of a woman obsessed. . . . A macabre premise executed with absurdist panache."
—Keziah Weir, Vanity Fair’s "21 Best Books of 2020"
"A sophisticated, surprising take on the campus novel (with a welcome dose of witchery). Knight’s writing feels a little wild and charged, as if you’re constantly on the edge of discovering something new with her."
"Academics tie themselves up into a pretzel of betrayal and desire in Rebecca Dinerstein Knight’s propulsive second book, which reads a tiny bit like AS Byatt after dark. . . . Unfolding as a series of notebook entries, Hex tracks Nell’s growing obsession with Dr. Joan Kallas, her advisor, and a staggering number of side affairs that begin happening as she chases a poison that will undo itself. This is a bold and highly charged book that makes entertainment seem like not such a bad word."
—John Freeman, Lit Hub
"This may be the first novel I’ve read that illustrates the other side of the quirky coin. It’s playful! Eccentric! Plants are involved! You really have no idea how a particular sentence is going to conclude, even when you’re approaching the end of it. . . . [I] think it’s ‘rather good’ . . . Read if you like: Lydia Davis, the word decoction, dabbling in Wicca, Wordsworth’s botanical-themed poems, peacocks.”
—Molly Young, Vulture
"Contained and bewitching, Hex is a love letter, a diary, a scientific study of relationships and desire. . . . There’s a lush darkness here, and [Knight's] tight, poetic language bolsters the novel’s intellectual New York hipster cool to become something more verdant, more unexpected. . . . Tender and enchanting."
—Russell Janzen, Jewish Book Council
"Hex is less Donna Tartt and more Ottessa Moshfegh: sardonic and strange. The novel is a delightfully odd pastiche of courtly love. . . . With its dark humour and loopy lyricism, it bewitches."
—The Sunday Telegraph
"A luminous, manic, clever, sometimes-too-clever, funny, tragic, and frustrating botany of desire and taxonomy of poisons. . . . The real witchcraft of this book is in its prose. . . . The intellectual joy of this book is where, in the time honored tradition of William Blake, Georgia O’Keefe, and Seymour Krelborn of Little Shop of Horrors, Nell gardens her feelings. She takes us on a tour of flowering poisons, from sassy bark to ricin to monkshood, to cashews. Nell presses flowers and poisons and desires into her journal until they become a single universal language. . . . If you’re a fan of desire, if you’re a fan of cacti, if you like poison, here’s a book for you."
—Carson Beker, Lambda Literary Review
"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. . . . Hex is 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."
—Chicago Review of Books
"What happens when five academics and an administrator walk into a book? Everything. Nell, our heroine, is equipped with a unique skill set: an incredibly biting and satirical sense of humor, a profound psychological acuity, and enough self-loathing to make her utterly fascinating. The scrutiny within the laser-sharp focus of her gaze makes alive all the other life forms in this story—plants, animals, people, dirt. The overlap in all the varieties of love and pain—felt, given, shared, afflicted, scorned—mingle within this group of six making this novel a most brilliant conjuring."
—Lucy Kogler, Lit Hub
"Knight’s dark, off-kilter and entirely beguiling novel is written in the form of Nell’s scientific notebook, which is filled with botanical references and grows increasingly unhinged as her captivations and grudges mount. Toxins threaten to infect Nell’s relationships, her university, and her own ecosystem, but ultimately her passion for beauty and joy in the world elevates her, and poison becomes its own poetry."
—The National Book Review
"[An] arresting novel of obsession. . . . Nell’s intensity and the hypnotic, second-person prose convincingly render the protagonist’s bewitched, self-destructive state. Readers who liked I Love Dick and want something more lurid will appreciate this."
“Knight writes in a distinctive, addictive, and poetic style in which every sentence provokes and nothing is predictable.”
"In her brilliant second novel, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight cannily explores both the poisons and the antidotes of love, ambition, mentorship, and yearning, and she does it all in prose so lively that I often found myself laughing with pleasure. Hex is some dark and joyous witchery."
—Lauren Groff, author of Florida
“Rebecca has written a book that examines our natural and absolutely astounding reactions to each other. The language of this novel is so finely tailored, so elegant yet organic, so absorbing that it takes the reader a moment to realize that this is not just a deliciously engaging tale of what it is like to be social and sexual, but that this writing is an actual incantation in itself. It is a beautiful, spooky spell that divides and processes our innate potential for poison or pleasure.”
—Jenny Slate, actress and author of Little Weirds
“Hex reads like a botanist’s cross-breeding of The Secret History and Dept. of Speculation, full of brilliant and bodily obsession. Rebecca Dinerstein Knight is both a scientist and a magician, and she conjures this beautiful spell of a novel with total control.”
—Emma Straub, author of Modern Lovers
“Hex is sexy, unhinged, revelatory, so smart it gives the reader whiplash. It works on you like the poisonous plants that wind through the story line, until you’re as obsessed and intoxicated as the vivid characters that make up this love hexagon gone fascinatingly and beautifully wrong. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book or was so impressed by the wizardry of the language.”
—Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
“Hex is a gem of a book: sharp and exquisite. Dinerstein Knight writes about women’s obsession with devastating wisdom, insight, and humor. It is pure pleasure to be under her spell.”
—Julia Pierpont, author of Among the Ten Thousand Things
“Hex offers pleasures on every page. It is wise, funny, suspenseful, and quite moving. Dinerstein Knight takes great care with every word.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Here I Am
“Hex is neon-bright and guided by a fierce, scintillating interest in the innermost chambers of the human heart, where melancholic and bright humors mingle together. In every line you hear the voice of a writer who knows how to lead you expertly into the place where the story is most alive: spooky, shifty, darkly funny, and delectable in every way.”
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
“Offbeat yet entirely precise; original and universal. Hex is a nut with sweet meat and a poison shell, at once disarming and quietly devastating. This is a book for anyone who’s ever felt adrift, or felt alone, or loved someone out of reach, or all the above.”
—Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin
Praise for The Sunlit Night
“Quirky, exuberant. . . . An original work of gentle irony counterpoised by delightful sincerity, which offers distinct turns of phrase with precision and beauty.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“The Norwegian Arctic of Dinerstein’s imagination is a strange and wonderful place. . . . The constant sunlight of midsummer feeds the book's dreamy, surreal quality. . . . Her narrative style is also dreamlike.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Luminous. . . . Dinerstein brings a contagious wonder to her storytelling.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
—The New Yorker
“Dinerstein’s much buzzed-about debut novel is a fanciful Arctic Circle romance between a Russian immigrant raised in a Brighton Beach bakery and a Manhattanite seeking refuge from family problems in a Norwegian artists’ colony.”
“Engaging and alive. . . . The Sunlit Night heralds the beginning of an intriguing career in fiction during which Dinerstein will hopefully continue to take us off the beaten path.”
“A rare find. . . . With precision and ease, Dinerstein gives us a love story that's about so much more than finding love: it’s about finding yourself in the company of another, even when you’re far from home.”
“Dinerstein’s special blend of melancholy and hope renders a character-rich, multifaceted story.”
“This poetically written novel . . . reminds us that love is more important than geography.”
—New York Post
“It's hard to read The Sunlit Night without feeling as though you’re enveloped in warmth, swathed by the author’s lyricism and imagery. The sensation is one unique to Dinerstein’s hand—and perfectly matched for the sun-soaked Nordic tale of lives intersecting at the top of the world.”
“Captivating . . . [Dinerstein’s] prose is lyrical and silky, but it's also specific, with acute observations and precise detail. . . . Provocative. . . . A rich reading experience.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)