Books by G.W. Hawkes

SEMAPHORE by G.W. Hawkes
Released: Aug. 31, 1998

The second half of Hawkes's two-novel debut (following last month's Surveyor, p. 678) is the haunting tale of a young protagonist's confused and threatened relationships with his loved ones and his own future. We meet Floridian Joseph Taft as a ten-year-old boy who has been mysteriously mute since birth ("He has the necessary machinery . . . it just isn't working") and who is gifted and burdened with the ability not just to see the future but to feel himself experiencing it—for example, his own wedding day and lovemaking with the girl who'll become his bride. And, most crucially, he "sees— his young sister's death by drowning in a neighbor's swimming pool. A panicked effort to thwart her fate (by stealing a dump truck and destroying that pool) is interpreted as an extreme example of Joseph's adolescent rebelliousness—which, coupled with his refusal to learn "to sign," widens the distance between him and his compassionate, frustrated parents. Hawkes shifts adroitly among past, present, and future scenes, and he produces several tingling narrative sequences: a home interview with an insensitive "special education" teacher; the comfort offered by a well-meaning minister who tells a wonderfully offbeat story about the power of parental love; a moving "conversation" with Joseph's younger brother, who begs to be told how his life will turn out; and the novel's emotional ending, in which kids eager to elude their parents' sheltering are released for trick-or-treating with Joseph's (necessarily) unspoken warning and blessing: "Stop, Go, I love you, Come back, Take care, Goodbye. Go on"). This second part of Hawkes's debut gracefully dramatizes the wary insularity of childhood and youth, the gaps that widen among family members as they age and change, and, even so, their inexplicable and sustaining connectedness. An unusual and imaginative story, one of the year's most pleasant (together with Surveyor) literary surprises. Read full book review >
SURVEYOR by G.W. Hawkes
Released: July 1, 1998

This intriguing story of two dropouts from the "normal" world is the first half of a two-novel debut (followed by Semaphore in August) by the author of the story collections Spies in the Blue Smoke (1992) and Playing Out of the Deep Woods (1995, not reviewed). Hawkes's protagonists are Paul Merline (who narrates) and John Suope, friends since 1952 when John, a US soldier serving in Korea (where he lost a leg), is treated by Paul, then a medic. After the war, the two drifted together and accepted employment by a secretive "Foundation" that sent them to the New Mexico desert to "map" remote land areas for purposes that will never be revealed to them. The story's major actions occur in 1987, when the insular little world Paul and John have built for themselves is threatened. A young woman graduate student, Caliope Jones, camps out nearby, planning to build (literally) a town, then film its destruction by flood, for her doctoral dissertation project. —Dinosaur men— settle in for extensive archaeological excavations. And John announces that he's met a woman and intends to live with her. Hawkes creates absorbing drama out of Paul's mingled disorientation, reawakened sexuality, amusement, and outrage in a perfectly calculated narrative filled with snaky plot twists, rough humor (— . . . we could buy New Mexico and kick everybody out—), and an almost awestruck feel for the endangered integrity of beloved objects and places—physical presences that mean more to the surveyors than any people do: a "monkey-puzzle" tree, a "crash piece" that may be a UFO, a lowering elevation the two friends name the Tooth of Time. The novel is further distinguished by precise, sensuous prose and superbly compact descriptions, notably of landscape (an excursion by raft through a huge underground cavern located beneath a mountain range is especially compelling). The Orwellian enigma of "the Foundation" is more distraction than plot essential, but it's the only real misstep in a highly accomplished debut. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1992

A debut volume—13 stories, mostly about off-kilter people haunted by the damaged world that surrounds them—that's notable for its supple, original style, and especially for dialogue that's convincing and various. Hawkes's characters are never quite sure where the boundary between the concrete and the psychic world is located, and his plots often swing on such disoriented responses. ``At the Walls of Jericho,'' originally published in The Atlantic, is typical: a man called Prophet locks himself in a paint locker aboard a ship and plans to stay there until he gets to ``the war.'' The ensuing conversation—how to talk him out, what machinery to us to get him out—is clever and appropriately absurd. ``Surveyor'' is a long account of two people who try to protect their area of New Mexico from a group they call the Dinosaur Men by destroying bones and evidence of alien landings: again, the external facts are less compelling than the haunted interior response of the damaged desert exiles. The title story, likewise, concerns a woman who witnesses a ``Small Storm in Her House,'' blue electricity pouring from a wall socket, leading her son to put her in the Mother's Ward—here, too, the story succeeds because the idiosyncratic point of view is central. In ``Hobgoblins,'' a farmer explains the death of a friend, another farmer, not by reference to cancer but by the invocation of hobgoblins, the Midwest equivalent of gremlins. The remaining stories work in similar fashion—when they fail, they seem just a bit too clever, as in ``Family Tag,'' where a husband and wife invite a Norwegian surrogate into their home, and she quickly displaces the wife in the husband's affections. Still, an impressive first collection. Hawkes ranges through space and delivers an original take on the world in a voice that's compelling. Besides The Atlantic, some of the stories appeared in The Missouri Review and Ploughshares. Read full book review >