In the late afternoon, Todd sits on the beach watching 6-year-old Anthony, his son, play in the surf. A man approaches Todd, and, after a minute, he recognizes him. It is Jack, who bullied Todd relentlessly during their senior year in high school. In spite of their shared history, Jack seems pleased at seeing Todd. He claims that their meeting is a coincidence and goes on to tell Todd that he has just left his wife, is determined to create a new life for himself, and asks if he can spend the night at Todd’s home.
Jack’s stay with Todd and Anthony extends beyond the first night. Jack continues to be oblivious about the pain he caused Todd in the past, and seems intent on insinuating himself into Todd’s life. But Jack’s presence has reawakened painful memories for Todd and has set him on edge. Todd doesn’t trust Jack and feels strongly that there are things he is not being told. Why is Jack really here? Todd is convinced it can’t be the coincidence that Jack claims. What is it that he really wants from Todd? And how will Todd respond when he finally finds out?
In his debut novel, Conner Habib tells a tragic story of deception, manipulation, repression, and violence. Habib lays bare our culture’s systemic toxic masculinity and homophobia, and illustrates how they are delivered in near lethal levels during high school, leaving wounds that may never really heal and can fester into adulthood. He also demonstrates how a single moment or action, at the right time, can have life altering after-effects.
Habib’s characters are well drawn and nuanced. They are believably human, with character traits both admirable and shameful. There are no heroes in Hawk Mountain, but there are also no villains. There are simply damaged people struggling to live their lives as best they can and to make an emotional connection that they desperately need. It is telling that Todd’s strongest emotional connection, even over those with his son and ex-wife, seems to be with a corpse, which is, ultimately, part of the true tragedy of the novel.
Unsettling, brutal and, ultimately, heartbreaking, Hawk Mountain is more than a little disturbing, but it is also bleakly beautiful. More insights about the book and its author, Conner Habib, can be found in this interview.