What I Learned from “Travesty”

It was Curt White who told me to read it. In workshop, he stressed the importance of having a good hook—the reason being, once you’ve captured the reader’s attention, you can get away with just about anything—a good strategy for experimental fiction.

He also said that Travesty had one of the best. Here are its opening four paragraphs:

No, no, Henri. Hands off the wheel. Please. It is too late. After all, at one hundred and forty-nine kilometers per hour on a country road in the darkest quarter of night, surely it is obvious that your slightest effort to wrench away the wheel will pitch us into the toneless world of highway tragedy even more quickly than I have planned. And you will not believe it, but we are still accelerating.

As for you, Chantal, you must beware. You must obey your Papa. You must sit back in your seat and fasten your belt and stop crying. And Chantal, no more beating the driver about the shoulders or shaking his arm. Emulate Henri, my poor Chantal, and control yourself.

But see how we fly! And the curves, how sharp and numerous they are! The geometries of joy!

At least you are in the hands of an exert driver.

We are indeed. In exactly 150 words, we see it all: the setting, the players, the conflict, its telos. And just like the novel’s poor doomed characters, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Since I read it (in Thailand, with my pal Bill Barker), Travesty has been one of the books I’ve tried most to emulate in my own fiction. My second (unpublished) novel, “The New Boyfriend,” is heavily indebted to it, as is the project I’m currently working on, a poetic memoir.

Thanks, Mr. Hawkes! And thanks, Curt!

3 thoughts on “What I Learned from “Travesty”

  1. Great post. I was introduced to Hawkes’s work through Mary Caponegro in college; reading him did more to change my sense of what fiction could be than any other post-45 novelist…. I do like Travesty, but it’s always come in third for me behind Second Skin (more capacious, richer) and The Passion Artist (whose nastiness strikes me as less contrived).

  2. Pingback: A Guide to My Writing Here at Big Other « BIG OTHER

  3. Pingback: A Guide to My Writing Here at Big Other (reposted) « BIG OTHER

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