Essentially a lyric poet operating as a fellow traveler in fiction, John Hawkes writes novels that are finely honed and superbly crafted, whose meaning and coherence arise largely from recurring patterns of imagery, autotelic thematic concerns, and highly unusual and largely unreliable narrative voices. Although the basic unit in the triad of the 1970’s (The Blood Oranges; Death, Sleep, and the Traveler; and Travesty) was the relatively short scene arranged in a more or less nonsequential format, Hawkes’s novels The Passion Artist and Virginie represent a return to more linear scenic development, albeit still employing nonsequential flashbacks. Indeed, Hawkes told John Barth in 1979 that he no longer subscribed to his earlier, oft-quoted statement that “plot, character, setting, and theme” are the “true enemies” of his fiction, a remark made, he said, when he was very young. Rather, Hawkes’s later work combines these linear patterns of development with comically grotesque narrators whose innocence in the face of a horrifying universe only magnifies the tension associated with that horror and with a mode ofexposition that relies less heavily on unusual metaphoric connections and more on directed statement; in fact, Hawkes at times quite explicitly and directly tells readers what they are to understand. Nevertheless, even these directed statements are not ordinary referrals to the real world but are, rather,...
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