Author Conner Habib on his captivating debut novel Hawk Mountain • GCN

An absorbing read full of twisted tenderness and atmospheric tension, Hawk Mountain, Conner Habib’s debut novel, is utterly compelling.

“The boy looks up: green eyes, sees Todd. Like cracked sea glass. ‘Jack. Gates,” Ms. Call repeats. “It’s not an easy name to forget. If you say it, you will remember it. She waves to the class and they say her name in unison, except for Todd, who is taken aback by those two syllables. Jack. Doors.”

From the first page of this captivating novel, the reader is drawn into a world that is both familiar and unfamiliar. This masterful debut explores the darkest material with startling and unsettling relatability and is a page-turner in the most classic sense. It made me feel more nervous than any novel in a while.

I had the opportunity to chat with the infinitely interesting author of falcon mountain Conner Habib to learn more about his journey to writing this novel, settling into a new life in Ireland, the tyranny and trauma of our school systems, and how our environments shape our characters.

Conner moved to Ireland over three and a half years ago. He is a writer, speaker and podcaster and now a novelist. His hugely popular podcast, Against Everyone with Conner Habibis always guaranteed to make you think a little deeper and differently.

Irish author Liz Nugent aptly describes falcon mountain like “Dripping with threat from the first page”, and I agree. Habib expertly creates an atmosphere and momentum early in the novel that makes it inescapable.

So what is it then, I hear you ask? Todd and Jack. Jack and Todd. Bully, victim, victim, bully. This is the story of how two lives intersect and intertwine. Habib explains, “Hawk Mountain is the story of two men who haven’t seen each other since high school and who happen to find themselves on a beach. Todd is at the beach with his six, almost seven year old son. And he sees someone approaching. It’s Jack.

“After this chance encounter, Jack kind of refuses to leave (Todd’s life and home) and he starts to develop this very close relationship with Todd’s son, and then something breaks, about a third into the novel, something happens and everything spirals from there. and gets darker and darker and darker.

The novel is written in a way that shifts from past to present as the story unfolds, revealing more and more of these men’s lives and relationships. The past is its own character in a larger sense, as the novel meditates on how we process trauma through time and what those formative origin stories and experiences in our youth mean to us in old age. adult. How they shape us. As LP Hartley wrote in his 1953 novel, The middleman; “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” The way we understand the past and come to terms with our own memories is something we can all identify with acutely.

The American high school setting and system features prominently in the novel in both the present (Todd is now a school teacher himself) and the past (Todd and Jack meet at school). Why did Habib choose school as the setting and place for psychological horror?

“We tend to think of school as a place where bad things can happen, so we have to mediate between bad things that happen. But maybe school itself is really bad. I don’t mean the upbringing is bad I mean this hierarchical system it means you can’t see your family, every day for 12 years where you’re expected to fit in to social norms, primarily, that lead you to training for a certain type of workforce, or a certain type of job, or thinking outside the box and speaking up. Either you’re being bullied, or you’re bully someone, or you either fall into some kind of weird caricature or archetype.In the United States, especially when you fall into those types of being a jock or being a goth or being a kid skateboarder, or whatever. So you’re really streamlined into a process, that is not yours, and because it is very difficult to live, or to express your individuality, or certainly to explore it.

“I think it’s extremely claustrophobic, even if your school experiences are good, or what we call good, it still has a very intense impact on people’s lives in ways that they may not know. not even.

“So I think this is all perfect to define the beginning of a horror story! But then, you know, most of the book takes place 15 years after high school. So it carries all that. I know that I am Syrian, and I am gay, and I fall into all sorts of identities that could be considered marginalized. I was in an abusive relationship. However, actually, one of the most traumatic and difficult things for me was going to school. It wasn’t because I was being bullied, but because it was suffocating because he was trying to control the way I thought and looked at the world. And again, I mean, education itself is a gift and there are a lot of good teachers and they’re probably good schools as well. But we shouldn’t overlook how it locks people into a certain type of existence for a very long time.

falcon mountain first existed as a short story that Habib wrote in graduate school. The characters and the story stayed with him and I was interested to know if he had a clear idea of ​​what was going to happen to these characters in the novel?

“It definitely changed from what it was to what it is now. I was really interested in melodrama. I was interested in Patricia Highsmith. I was even really interested in old Douglas Sirk movies, stuff like that. I thought ‘what can be more melodramatic than a thriller or a thriller that’s actually a lot of melodrama?’

“I started to develop the pulse and the beating heart of the story more, and it became a literary horror novel, but, you know, it’s not a horror story about a monster. It’s a horror story about emotional pain.

Portrait by Hazel Coonagh

Habib has lived in Ireland for over three years now. What attracted him here and how was the move from the United States?

“I wanted to live here for most of my adult life. I came here when I was 15 with my family on vacation, and since then I want to live here. Then I came to visit in 2016. And that was kind of a reaffirmation. And it was great.

“I think for me it’s just such a difference. It’s such a different culture, no matter how much overlap there is. It’s really his thing, people talk to their neighbors and they talk to each other for a long time – a kind of slow and loose aspect that doesn’t exist in most places I’ve lived in the United States. I think that’s something that can be overlooked when you live here. And that’s also something that can sometimes exasperate people here, but it’s really very nice coming from the United States. See that kind of solidarity.

“You know, living here during the shutdowns, even though the shutdowns were much stricter and longer here than they were almost anywhere in the United States, I was so happy to be here. Because of the cultural conversation, the United States would have been absolutely unbearable for me, people were right at each other’s throats. And it just wasn’t like that here. The atmosphere here was much more of a sense of togetherness with each other. So I’m very lucky to be here.

Habib and I inevitably ended up investigating identity in the context of writing during our conversation. He shared a revelation he came to after an event he attended where authors Torrey Peters and Mona Eltahawy were in conversation with Una Mullally. Peters explained that she wrote her bestseller Detransition, Baby for other trans women. Conner elaborates, “It helped me realize how writers who have some sort of marginalized identity are always invited to write about their identity. And so in some ways writers, and I will include LGBTQ+ writers, are never allowed to write fiction. Because it’s become non-fiction.

“You know, queer life or it’s about what it’s like to come out, or whatever. And I appreciate all those, there are plenty of books like that, which I really like. However, they are often organized by non-gay people, but I wonder how many creative artists are swept under the rug because they are unwilling to turn their art into an educational role for straight, cis, white people . , etc.

“The problem with this book is that I had to try to keep it like – it’s a story, it’s a novel – and whoever wants to come and read their identity in it, that’s great.”

Conner Habib’s Hawk Mountain is out now online and in all good bookstores.

This interview originally appeared in GCN issue 373, which you can read in full here.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared in print edition number 373 (August 19, 2022). Click here to read it now.

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