“You suffer The Lime Twig like a dream. It seems to be something that is happening to you, that you want to escape from but can’t.”
– Flannery O’Connor
The stakes get raised again. After reading John Hawkes’s The Lime Twig I’m of a mind with Louise Glück lines from “Mock Orange”:
And ‘odor’ is a very apt word. I’ve never read a book where there were so many scents, so much olfactory maneuvering. Here the narrator speaks of the femme fatales sent to distract the married Michael Banks:
The smell of women–girlish, matronly–and the smell of meat sauce were the same. As soon as it spread across his plate it went to his nostrils and they might not have bothered with their clothes, with procrastination. (150)
Margaret’s cat while eating:
…the cat, creature that claws tweed, sits high in the hallway, remains incorrigible upon the death of its mistress, beds itself in the linen or thrusts its enormous head into an alley, now sucked and gagged on the fish as if drawing a peculiar sweetness from the end of a thin bone. (63)
…behind the spectacles the man had watering eyes, eyes nearly awash in the sockets, and he did not blink. On either side of his nose–bookish–were grains of blood and scratches. When he whispered, the saliva behind his lips, between his teeth, was tinted pink with blood constantly trickling into the throat. (93)
The sobs were not sweet. They were short, moist, lower than contralto, louder than she intended; the moanings of a creature no one could love. (131)
Brown and broken yellow, thick and ovarian, his mouth was running with the eggs and sauce while the whiskey glasses of the women were leaving rings. (150)
At three o’clock in the morning she was a girl he had seen through windows in several dreams unremembered, unconfessed, the age of twenty that never passes but lingers in the silvering of the trees and rising fogs. Younger than Syb, fingers bereft of rings, she would come carelessly to any door, to any fellow’s door. (155)
The Lime Twig is a nightmare. It’s presentation of evil is similar to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, complete with a memorable retinue of rogues. The leader being Larry who “towered…and there was the perfect nose, the black hair plastered into place, the brass knuckles shining on the enormous hand, and the eyes, the eyes devoid of irises.” (157) Compare Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden who was close to seven foot tall and devoid of eyebrows and eyelashes. I feel confident Hawkes is a little responsible for the most feted American author at the moment.
Still, I can’t think of another great American writer with such a paucity of material on the internet. The best page is the Brown University tribute site–he died in 1998. The Dalkey Archive interview being a great resource.
Hawkes once remarked, “”I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking about fiction, totality of vision or structure was really all that remained.”
Eighteen novels is a wealth. I have only been stretched on the fictional rack once, but I’m ready for more. We have to read Hawkes.