The Lime Twig (Magill Book Reviews)
Although he does not appear until the end of the long prologue, Michael Banks is the novel’s focal character. A plain man married to a drab, nearly sexless wife, Banks has the satisfaction of having his fondest dream, that of owning a race horse, come true, only to see the dream transmogrify into his worst nightmare.
In order to live his dream, Banks has to act as front man for a gang of thugs led by Larry, a caricature of Freudian masculinity. From the beginning, then, it is clear that while this may be Banks’s dream, Banks is not in control of either the horse, a stallion named Rock Castle, or the sexual power it represents. Although he gets his horse and his night of sexual abandon with the “venereal” Sibylline Laval (among others), the gang has his wife, Margaret, whom they beat and rape. The assault brutally fulfills her sexual fantasies, equivalent to the twisted fulfillment of Banks’s dream.
Realizing what he has set in motion, Banks puts an end both to the fixed race and to the fantasy that has caught him in its web.
Parodying popular detective thrillers and more serious novels such as Graham Greene’s BRIGHTON ROCK, LIME TWIG is not a novel of plot and character (which Hawkes once called “the enemies of the novel”) but instead an imagistic fiction, as nightmarish and surreal as the world of Banks’s psychological imagination. Unlike Banks’s fantasy, however, the novel remains very much in its creator’s...
(The entire section is 294 words.)
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Hawkes once remarked "that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting, and theme" and that "totality of vision or structure was really all that remained." Like each of his novels, The Lime Twig reflects this concern with structure and, as though the novel were a canvas, with capturing a haunting impression to evoke a complete vision. While the sequence of events follows a fairly chronological unfolding, the organization of the chapters is less conventional. The first section, what one might expect to be chapter one, receives no chapter designation at all, but functions as a kind of first-person "preface" to the following narrative proper. The second section of the novel, after Hencher's monologue, begins with a numeral one and announces the main narrative which, cast in a third-person point of view, shifts occasionally to the various characters. Although critics have not come to any agreement about its effect, the use of Hencher's preface provides a point of impulsion for the dramatic action — Michael Banks's involvement with the theft of Rock Castle. Hencher, having gained the reader's sympathy and transferred his devotion from his dead mother to Michael and Margaret Banks, then prompts Michael to realize his dream: the owning of a race horse and the concomitant expression of sexuality.
Another technique Hawkes relies on, one characteristic of all his fiction, emanates from his concern with maintaining a "distance" between...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Critics have placed Hawkes's novels in various categories which, depending on one's particular perspective, have their respective merits. Certainly, it is easy to recognize elements of terror and surrealism in the fiction, thus seeing Hawkes within the tradition of American fiction as practiced by Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, and joining such twentieth century writers interested in the grotesque aspect of reality as Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Djuna Barnes, and Nathanael West. Emphasizing the humor rather than the nightmare quality of Hawkes's fiction, one might place him alongside such writers of "black humor" as Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut.
But Hawkes is also a writer whose poetic prose aspires to break through the traditions of the conventional popular novel. In this mien, his forerunners are such authors as Herman Melville (as well as Poe and James) who demonstrated a similar interest in narrative perspectives, especially the first-person unreliable narrator. Other more recent innovators in limited point of view techniques include Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Vladimir Nabokov, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ken Kesey, and William Golding.
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Second Skin (1964) continues to be one of Hawkes's most widely read novels, its rich and allusive narrative texture making it conducive to continued study. Like The Lime Twig, it teems with death and nightmarish events; yet unlike its predecessor, this fourth novel contains, as Hawkes has emphasized, much that is "affirmative" as a story of "the life-force versus death."
As its main theme, the struggle between life and death informs the plot, the setting, the use of characterization, and the structure of the novel. In fact, so dependent is each of these on the novel's theme that Second Skin provides an excellent example of artistic unity and tension. The magnetic pull toward death is countered by the Skipper's efforts to save his daughter Cassandra from suicide (he fails) and at the same time to renew his own bungled life (he succeeds), both of these providing the novel's central conflict.
Skipper, a fifty-nine-year-old exnaval officer, narrates the story while most of the other major characters choose their places on one side or the other of the life-death struggle. As residents of the nightmarish dark island in the cold Atlantic (based on Hawkes's visit to Vinalhaven off the Maine coast), the "black widow" Miranda, the Captain, and his son Jomo operate on the side of death as the two men sexually pursue Cassandra (the Skipper's childishly innocent daughter), finally driving her to suicide. On the side of the life force...
(The entire section is 571 words.)