Reading John Hawkes second novel, the purgatorial western The Beetle Leg, is like being a small child awake during the night, staring in horror at some formless dark beast of the imagination that lurks within the shadows of their room. In effect, Beetle Leg is so surreal, shifting and elusive because it is not made up of the actual forms and features of life, but of the shadows that they cast. As in Outer Dark, Hawkes creates a western set in a hellish wasteland of lawlessness. The majority of the characters in Hawkes novel are rather impotent compared to the violence of the natural world. Nature is described in vivid, figurative language of tight poetic scenery some of the best lines are those describing the land, whereas the town and characters are given very little, if any, description beyond thin references to misshapen features. Like a proper western novel, the setting is as much a character as the people. Hawkes toys with time, jumbling the order of several scenes and sashaying between past and present, as well as between two simultaneous threads occurring in different parts of town, to create an effect that time is not just something moving from A to B but something more all-encompassing. Hawkes also includes Eves slimy pool, an unshielded dip of water in the waves of earth thatappeared to be covered with palm leaves, broad, clay-veined shadow, which makes one wonder if this little purgatory setting could be the eviction from Eden. To simply use the religious context of the novel however, would be to cheapen it and pigeonhole it into some corner of deconstruction and literary criticism and, ultimately, the Beetle Leg would be able to wiggle free from the straps holding it to that operating table and present itself as something much greater. While being a difficult, demanding little novel, Hawkes The Beetle Leg is a powerful display of surrealism and poetic potency. This ideas of this book are ineffable, and can only, truly be done justice by simply reading this incredible novel.
The text, in this case The Beetle Leg, is the independent variable. 10 pages to the end, and I just dont care enough to pick it up and finish it. So pared down as to barely constitute a novel at all. *****/*****Suppose a director made a movie (or a film, for those who care about such distinctions). Then suppose, for some unknowable reason, the director took those individual trailers, sequenced them end-to-end, then bookended them with mini-scenes involving two of the characters, who in no ways dominate the film as either protagonist or antagonist. Voila, The Beetle Leg. Reading this has come too hot on the heels of bad experiences with The Master and Margarita and The Tetherballs of Bougainville. 46) It is almost as if Hawkes foreshadows his own novels lawless abandon of story ( sjuzhet) leaving only plot (fabula), which cant be abandoned whether the author chooses to or not, while at the same time, overestimating the magic of his pages.Occasionally while reading TBL, Id hit a passage that made little sense, actually it happened frequently, but when forced to slow down, slow down and reread, the passage would yield logic when finding the right emphasisyou have to pay attention.
But story, narrative, and plot, just like character, live rich lives in Hawkes, even if one needs to read far far below the text one is provided with.
He has a way with words, a lulling cadence which carries mesmerizingly and draws you in.....not least because he dwells on the macabre, relishing the spin out of detail of Goyaesqye folks: the decrepit, rotting, porous, fungusly challenged denizens of Mistletoe, a settlement out in the West which no one from the outside seems to be able to actually find (witness Camper and Lou, who traverse backwards forwards almost futilely). Mulge is a great non character: he is the Godot in this surrealistic Western: in a bizarre but unique scene, which actually takes up a whole chapter, the guy manages to get married without a single reference to himself: clever little technique. Im not sure how well Hawkes understands the fabric of the wild west, but even if he doesnt, hes very good at shaping out complete weirdos and misfits.
Probably The Beetle Leg is a little bit short of lucidity but on the other hand dark sarcasm occurs in abundance.
"I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking about fiction, totality of vision or structure was really all that remained." This seems to me, to be the mission statement for most experimental fiction. In other words, with every mention of Hawkes, the postmodern red flag always comes up, warning people that this is yet another one of those "difficult" writers. Not that the Beetle Leg isn't a difficult novel. I mentioned how the beginning of the novel sounds like a direct influence on Mccarthy, in particular his book No Country for Old Men. The law plays a similar role here, but the sheriff in the Beetle Leg has less of a morally upright tone. The setting is a sort of post-apocalyptic west (apparently this book is set in eastern Montana, that mostly sounds like conjecture, I saw no direct indication of that fact, but...it works). Early in the novel, when a little girl becomes concerned with the presence of a strange man hanging out by the lake, the sheriff has a rather pragmatic reaction. Writers like Hawkes are not babysitters, he isn't going to hold your hand throughout the narrative, work is involved, and significant demands are placed upon the reader. I enjoyed it overall, but from what I've heard, which isn't much, Hawkes's later novels are much more polished. As far as I have read, he draws the closest comparison to Mcelroy, but there are several stylistic similarities to Gaddis's narrative voice.
John Hawkes, born John Clendennin Talbot Burne Hawkes, Jr., was a postmodern American novelist, known for the intensity of his work, which suspended the traditional constraints of the narrative.