If you have so far managed to deny yourself the aesthetic pleasure that are the novels of John Hawkes, Dan Green’s essay in The Critical Flame gives you just the chance to indulge. As Dan writes:
Those readers who are willing to devote some time to Hawkes’s work, and to judge the novels on their own terms — since Hawkes himself devoted much effort to establishing those terms — would sure find it a rewarding, if at times also rather disquieting, experience. And although appreciation of Hawkes’s achievement can’t finally rest in singling out his “best” or most “representative” novel, it is possible to focus first on a particularly dynamic period in Hawkes’s career, a period in which Hawkes produced several novels that both illustrate his inveterate experimentation and stand on their own as satisfying works of literary art. The set of novels beginning with The Lime Twig (1961) and including Second Skin (1964), The Blood Oranges (1971), and Travesty (1976) could serve as the foundation of a revival of interest in Hawkes’s fiction. Each of them succeeds in redeeming the ambitions of experimental fiction, while, together, they are as impressive a group of books as any written by a postwar writer.
Among the many, many insights that Dan purveys in this essay, I was struck by this one, which gets at the heart of why the violence in The Lime Twig is so, well, violent:
But then, ultimately, Hawkes wants us to find the motivations of the characters obscure if not absent. As in The Lime Twig, the violence and cruelty exhibited is all the more disturbing because motives can’t be discerned and thus don’t explain the outbreak and intensity of violent behavior. Hawkes’s vision is of a world punctuated by violence and cruelty, and Skipper’s unreliable, unforthcoming narrative is what gives this vision in Second Skin its disconcerting power.
I would go even farther than that–the violence seems so fundamentally unnecessary. Not only are the motives tough to imagine, there are few clues to the fact that one of the book’s main characters is about to be murdered in cold blood. It just happens, absurdly, cruelly, finally. And that, I would wager, is in the end what is most disconcerting and most realistic about it.