Hawkes (Travesty) may have changed publishers (from experimental to mainline), but he's still dispensing purposeful perversity: the best of it here is hypnotic, a series of chill psychological landscapes; some of it is merely silly. Konrad Vost is a pharmacist in an unnamed East European city of unbelievable drabness. His unfaithful yet fanatically loved wife is dead; when he finds out his schoolgirl daughter is a prostitute, Vost turns her in; his mother is incarcerated inside La Violaine, a women's prison, for the crime of killing Vost's father. When a revolt occurs at La Violaine, Vost, ever icily perverse, is one of the first to volunteer to quell, it violently. A man ""precise in what he did and correct in what he said,"" the sensation of breaking delicate female bones is delicious to him; but, during the battle, he loses a hand, is afterward fitted with an artificial one, sheathed in a black glove, and. eventually is taken prisoner by the women of La Violaine, who have proved triumphant. ""In the world of women and in the world of prison, where the rudiments of common knowledge were unavoidable. . . he would receive the ishment he deserved and desired. . ."": sexual humiliations that call up the echoes of earlier abominations of his childhood. Hawkes, in stringy, sometimes tangling prose, can give over a scene--in a lightless barn with a cow, say, or in a bleak salt marsh--that has the mysterious vividness of a German Romantic painting. But his recent tendency to explore eroticism and will, besides leading him into luridness better left to a Jerzy Kozinski, has him also salting his text with aphorisms--""Sleep is the natural medium of light that cannot be seen""--that could have profitably been left out. Technically, Hawkes is one of our best writers, but, except for the power of some of his spooky and fabulously specific visions, this novel doesn't really work: too intent on shocking for its own sake and too unaware of his limitations (Kafka he's not), Hawkes courts ludicrousness here more often than he dazzles us with dread.