Hawkes, John (Vol. 14)
Hawkes, John 1925–
Hawkes is an American novelist, playwright, and short story writer. Jonathan Baumbach calls Hawkes "something of a naturalist in reverse"; in his experimental fiction he outlines and defines life as a surrealistic, often terrifying, dream world. Hawkes has said that his novels attempt to renew the form of that genre. According to critic Albert Guerard, in whose writing class Hawkes wrote his first novel, The Cannibal, he is "perhaps the most original American novelist since Faulkner." (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev, ed.)
Since the appearance of his first novel, The Cannibal, in 1949, the work of John Hawkes has proven him to be a writer whose technical control, poetic imagery and content demand critical recognition. His novels challenge the reader's imagination and force him to read them with the care necessary in reading most modern poetry. The variety of experimental techniques in dealing with time and space in his fiction, the use of fantasy and dream and the pervasive, naturalistic theme of the determinacy of history and myth over men's lives suggest the influence in his work of naturalism and symbolism. In this he belongs to a tradition which combines the Gothic fiction of Charles Brockden Brown and Poe with the compressed symbolism and ironic view of Crane, Bierce and, on occasion, Hemingway. In Hawkes's particular view of the novel and the function of the novelist, the imagination dominates the fact…. Because of his "detached" approach, Hawkes achieves sympathy without sentimentality. His credo might be shared by Djuna Barnes, Nathanael West, Bernard Malamud, James Purdy, and Flannery O'Connor among contemporary writers…. Where Hawkes excels over the tried-and-true "realistic" writers is in the uses of imagination and the power to excite that faculty in the reader. (pp. 345-46)
[His technique of reworking myths to convey his perspective of modern man] is most evident in The Beetle Leg (1951), a novel set in the American desert...
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James L. Green
Like the typical fairy tale "Charivari" is a nightmare with a happy ending. However, the happy ending of fairy tale denies nightmare, preserves childhood innocence; the happy ending of "Charivari" is ironic, undercutting the false security of dream, affirming the reality of nightmare. (p. 83)
Charivari denotes "a serenade of 'rough music,' with kettles, pans, tea-trays, and the like, used … in mockery and derision of incongrous or unpopular marriages" (OED). "Charivari" is a satiric epithalamion to the marriage of Henry and Emily Van, two forty-year old children. Provided with money and a country estate by their parents, Henry and Emily have played house for fourteen years, though both subconsciously desire to break out of their fairy-tale world of parties and games. Henry has a nightmare in which he views Emily with a child. The next day during one of their parties, Emily announces her pregnancy. The news is terrifying because the birth of a child will force the couple to acknowledge their age, to accept time and the inevitability of death. Henry flees, a runaway child, but is found and brought back by his father. In a parallel action Emily is taken by her mother to a doctor, who finds that the pregnancy is hysterical. Returned home, Emily again appears youthful, and the children resume their games. This marriage is Hawkes' microcosm for twentieth-century Western society, affluent, hedonistic, committed to the preservation of...
(The entire section is 1049 words.)