Image Credit: Chaozzy Lin via Unsplash
“I wanted to see him as he used to be, as the memory that still lived in the space, and I wanted to show him that I was better now, so much better. If he only knew me now instead of then he wouldn’t have, and I wouldn’t have to do it,” the unnamed narrator of Charlene Elsby’s debut novel, Hexis says, explaining to the reader why she must kill him. The unnamed man does not see how she has become a better version of herself, through killing him before. He never seems to recall that they have been down this road before, and that it never ends well for him.
Hexis is a stream of consciousness narrative about a woman who kills one man—the same man—over and over again. Her obsessive, detailed analysis of each killing, explaining how and why reminds me of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, in its first person narrative with extreme attention to detail.
At some points, I wondered if it was whether the narrator killing men who represent him, as serial killers tend to do. There is one person that they target, and they kill people who remind them of that person. In essence, they kill the same person many times, just like the narrator of Hexis does.
The narrator understands what gives a person power over another—sex, in particular, and how to use it to manipulate men and their image of her. She uses it as currency, to get what she wants, even though she doesn’t enjoy it. She’s searching for power, throughout the book, particularly over the unnamed man.
It’s not that this man is particularly bad. He’s mediocre, yet expects her to be perfect. He says that they are meant for each other. This is, ultimately, his crime. He annoys her by his very presence—he breathes the air that should be hers, he expects something from her that she has no intention of giving, thus, he must die. She’s like a spider, slowly pulling him in. Always finding the right thing to say or do to get him right where she wants him. Always considering angles. The unnamed man never has a chance.
Another interesting way to read Hexis is to suspend all belief and just go with it—she keeps running into him, and killing him. He haunts her, wherever she goes, a ghost that she can never rid herself of. Charlene Elsby’s writing is bold and poetic, drawing the reader into a dreamscape that is equal parts nightmare and dark comedy.
As a woman (who has written a book with a similar theme), there was a lot that the character said that I relate to. The narrator’s insistence that this man must die is darkly funny in a way that I really appreciated. The book encompasses the feeling of female rage and disappointment in a way that is pretty on point. Men fail us, often, and they are rarely held accountable. The book brings up the point that if women did as we are told to, then we encounter paradoxes. When we are our best selves, it is often the version that the stereotypical male would not like.
I highly recommend Hexis. If I were doing a Best Books list, this book would be up at the top. Hexis is available soon via CLASH Books.