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John Hawkes is an extraordinary writer. I have always admired his books. They should he more widely read.

—Saul Bellow

John Hawkes

20th century American novelist

John Hawkes (1925–1998) was a postmodern novelist born in Stamford, Connecticut and educated at Harvard University. For years, Hawkes taught at Brown University and gained notoriety with his novel The Lime Twig (1961), which was admired by Thomas Pynchon. Hawkes was noted for his unconventional style and views on the creation of literature.


Fiction by John Hawkes

Travesty is John Hawkes’s most extreme vision of eroticism and comic terror. In the south of France, an elegant sportscar is speeding through the night, bearing a man, his daughter, and his best friend toward a fatal crash. As he drives, the "privileged man" justifies, in sustained monologue, his firm persuasion that willed destruction is the ultimate act of the poetic imagination. "What I have in mind is an ’accident’ so perfectly contrived that it will be unique, spectacular and instantaneous, a physical counterpart to that vision in which it was in fact conceived." This is the final work in a triad of novels concerned with sex, myth, the imagination, and the absurd. The Blood Oranges (1971) is the acting out of a lyric dream; Death, Sleep & The Traveler (1974) a descent into the depths of psychic darkness to the edge of death; and Travesty (1976) an icily comic portrait of the poet as suicide and murderer. It is one of the most cruelly and brilliantly ironic works to be found in contemporary literature.

Second Skin

Fiction by John Hawkes

with a contribution by Jeffrey Eugenides

Skipper, an ex-World War II naval Lieutenant and the narrator of Second Skin, interweaves past and present—what he refers to as his "naked history"—in a series of episodes that tell the story of a volatile life marked by pitiful losses, as well as a more elusive, overwhelming, joy. The past: the suicides of his father, wife and daughter, the murder of his son-in-law, a brutal rape, and subsequent mutiny at sea. The present: caring for his granddaughter on a "northern" island where he works as an artificial inseminator of cows, and attempts to reclaim the innocence with which he faced the tragedies of his earlier life. Combining unflinching descriptions of suffering with his sense of beauty, Hawkes is a master of nimble and sensuous prose who makes the awful and mundane fantastic, and occasionally makes the fantastic surreal.

Humors Of Blood & Skin

Fiction by John Hawkes

For more than three decades, John Hawkes’s voice has been among the most original in American fiction. His work, including nine novels, such as The Cannibal, The Lime Twig, Second Skin, The Blood Oranges, and Virginie: Her Two Lives, has consistently demonstrated that he is a major prose stylist and a master of comedy and the unexpected. Humors of Blood and Skin: A John Hawkes Reader presents Hawke’s own selection from his novels, stories, and his current novel-in-progress, Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade. In autobiographical commentaries, Hawkes provides a context for each of the selections and discusses the genesis and the writing of his work. As a novelist whose creative life has depended largely on travel, he evokes the actual places that have inspired his imaginary worlds: the Alaska of his boyhood; the Caribbean island where he wrote Second Skin; the Germany he knew as an ambulance driver in World War II; the South of France where he searched for images of Picasso and the Marquis de Sade. This Reader is both an introduction to Hawkes’s fiction and a singular literary montage, focused on comedy, eroticism, and the imagination. It is, as William H. Gass says in his introduction, "the joyful showing forth and celebration of Hawkes’s healing art."

Available: November 01 1984

Death, Sleep And The Traveler

Fiction by John Hawkes

The author of seven full-length novels, several plays, and numerous short fictions, John Hawkes over the course of two and a half decades has won international acclaim. Death, Sleep & The Traveler is about a middle-aged Dutchman, his dissolving marriage, his involvement in two sexual triangles, his obsession with the murder he is accused of having committed on a pleasure cruise. “It is an exceptionally concise and beautiful work,” writes the novelist-critic Jonathan Baumbach, “delicate, erotic, dreamlike—in all, a luminous novel by the richest prose stylist in American letters since Faulkner.”

Available: April 01 1975

The Blood Oranges

Fiction by John Hawkes

"Need I insist that the only enemy of the mature marriage is monogamy? That anything less than sexual multiplicity is … naïve? That our sexual selves are merely idylers in a vast wood?" Thus the central theme of John Hawkes’s widely acclaimed novel The Blood Oranges is boldly asserted by its narrator, Cyril, the archetypal multisexualist. Likening himself to a white bull on Love’s tapestry, he pursues his romantic vision in a primitive Mediterranean landscape. There two couples––Cyril and Fiona, Hugh and Catherine––mingle their loves in an "Illyria" that brings to mind the equally timeless countryside of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Yet no synopsis or comparison can convey the novel’s lyric comedy or, indeed, its sinister power––sinister because of the strength of will Cyril exerts over his wife, his mistress, his wife’s reluctant lover; lyric, since he is also a "sex-singer" in the land where music is the food of love.

Available: April 01 1972

Lunar Landscapes

Fiction by John Hawkes

This collection brings together in one volume all of John Hawkes’s shorter fictions, a number of which have been out of print for some years. It includes six short stories: “The Traveler,” “The Grandmother,” ’’A Little Bit of the Old Slap and Tickle," "Death of an Airman," ’’A Song Outside," and ’The Nearest Cemetery;’’ his novella, Charivari, first published in New Directions 11 Anthology, and the two short novels, The Owl and The Goose on the Grave, written in the early 1940’s. Each brings us more of the extraordinary qualities of imagination, and the unique prose style, that have made John Hawkes one of the most admired American writers of his generation.

The Beetle Leg

Fiction by John Hawkes

The Beetle Leg, John Hawkes’s second full-length novel, was first published by New Directions in 1951. Now, after more than fifteen years of underground existence, this brilliant novel is emerging as a classic of visionary writing and still remains Hawkes’s only work devoted solely to American life. As a ’surrealist Western" (Newsweek), and a violent and poetic portrayal of "a landscape of sexual apathy" (Albert J. Guerard), The Beetle Leg is a rich flight into the special vein of comedy that Hawkes had begun to exploit a decade before the popular acceptance of "black humor."

The Cannibal

Fiction by John Hawkes

The Cannibal was John Hawkes’s first novel, published in 1949. "No synopsis conveys the quality of this now famous novel about an hallucinated Germany in collapse after World War II. John Hawkes, in his search for a means to transcend outworn modes of fictional realism, has discovered a a highly original technique for objectifying the perennial degradation of mankind within a context of fantasy.... Nowhere has the nightmare of human terror and the deracinated sensibility been more consciously analyzed than in The Cannibal. Yet one is aware throughout that such analysis proceeds only in terms of a resolutely committed humanism." ––Hayden Carruth

The Lime Twig

Fiction by John Hawkes

An English horse race, the Golden Bowl at Aldington, provides the background for John Hawkes’ exciting novel, The Lime Twig, which tells of an ingenious plot to steal and race a horse under a false name. But it would be unfair to the reader to reveal what happens when a gang of professional crooks gets wind of the scheme and moves to muscle in on this bettors’ dream of a long-odds situation. Worked out with all the meticulous detail, terror, and suspense of a nightmare, the tale is, on one level, comparable to a Graham Greene thriller; on another, it explores a group of people, their relationships fears, and loves. For as Leslie A. Fiedler says in his introduction, "John Hawkes.. . makes terror rather than love the center of his work, knowing all the while, of course, that there can be no terror without the hope for love and love’s defeat . . . ."