SEMAPHORE by G.W. Hawkes

SEMAPHORE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1998
ISBN: 1-878448-82-X
Page count: 175pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998




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