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John Hawkes, The Lime Twig

with an introduction by Leslie A. Fiedler

New Directions, New York, 1961. 175 pp.
• Breve profilo tratto da Storia della letteratura americana, a cura di Guido Fink e altri, Sansoni, Firenze,

«John Hawkes (1925-1998), scrittore aristocraticamente isolato, si è sempre tenuto lontano dalle alte tirature
e può contare solo sull’ammirazione di pochi critici e lettori devoti al romanzo sperimentale. Fin dalla
intricata e delirante tessitura di The Cannibal (1949), dove il titolo appare giustificato da una Madame Snow
che divora il proprio nipotino e da un Duca pazzo che per tutto il romanzo insegue un ragazzo per poi
tagliarlo a pezzi e servirlo come portata principale in un rito misterioso, mentre un egualmente misterioso
motociclista americano viene ucciso dai neo-nazisti e il tutto viene narrato dal leader di quest’ultimo gruppo,
il criminale Zizendorf, Hawkes appare intenzionato a trascurare le convenzioni abituali del romanzo –
trama, personaggio, cronologia ecc. – a favore di una struttura «mitica» e di suggestioni eliotiane. Vero e
proprio «paesaggio devastato» di Hawkes è la Londra distrutta dai bombardamenti di The Lime Twig (Il
panione), dove a parte le fiamme che vengono dal cielo c’è già devastazione sufficiente nella Dreary Station
e nei campi di corse dove si aggirano, fra piccoli gangster, violenze quotidiane e una polizia impotente,
personaggi come Michael o Margaret, la cui unica speranza di rifugio è il sogno. Ma saranno sogni orgiastici,
spaventosi, sogni che sembrano realizzare le aspirazioni più torbide e per questo si tramutano in incubi
atroci. Non senza, al risveglio, residui imbarazzanti come la bambina uccisa che Michael scopre dopo il party
selvaggio a cui ha partecipato. Da questa materia vischiosa e inquietante, unico vero riscatto, o elemento
distanziante, è lo stile, che giustamente qualche studioso ha definito più manierista che barocco».

• Concisa, e non innecessaria, considerazione critico-letteraria di Franco La Polla, Un posto nella mente. Il
nuovo romanzo americano 1962-1982, Longo, Ravenna, 1983:

«Hawkes ha sempre manifestato il suo disinteresse per una narrativa di stampo tradizionale, per quanto
modernamente manipolata. Ciò che lo interessa è, nelle sue stesse parole, la “coerenza verbale piscologica”
del romanziere. È, questo, un atteggiamento e un credo che si riflette bene anche nell’impiego che lo
scrittore fa del linguaggio, tutto pervaso di un lirismo fondato non solo su particolari fini semantici, ma
anche su un uso sovracuto della sintassi che qualcuno non ha esitato a definire faulkneriano».

• Insegnante di scrittura creativa e suoi illustri allievi:

Hawkes taught English at Harvard from 1955 to 1958 and English and creative writing at
Brown University from 1958 until his retirement in 1988. Among his students at Harvard
and Brown were Rick Moody, Jeffrey Eugenides and Marilynne Robinson.

•Libri di John Hawkes pubblicati in italiano:

• Due recensioni dal web

Mar 13, 2013 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, worshiped-and-adored, signed-and-or-first-editions, 40th-birthday-re-read-project

Hawkes makes us see through a glass darkly, disorientates us. Our feet stub and stumble though the fields of his prose,
flint-sharp, serrated. Somewhere far in the distance is a narrative, a story, some Dick Francis Thriller with its thugs,
beatings, murder and horse racing. But this is far far off in the fog, thin and pale and unremarkable. What remain
before our eyes at all times are the words, hard-edged and cutting, words which gather themselves inward and bare their
claws, which are small and ancient and stained with blood, words which stand in short, carefully structured sentences
and demand recognition, fealty.

What is the point of this text? What does it do? It bruises and bloodies us. It sings to us in a hard and painful voice. It
cuts its way somewhere deep into the Human and into the World given Being by language. It is prose as Thing, rather
than prose as Journey, or as Lecture. It is impossible to situate, un-like its relatives, it is an object building itself in our
interior, it leaves scars.

It is not the Dream but the thing seen through the Dream, the black shape glimpsed from the corner of the minds-eye,
the un-remembered darkness that wakes us into sweat and twisted sheets.

It is late at night. I stayed awake to finish reading and am typing this quickly while feelings are fresh, and so that I can
sleep. I do not know where Hawkes goes, in the great scheme of things, who his predecessors and successors are. He
seems too unique. What he is doing is hard and important, and his prose technique is impeccable. This was my second
of his, and I intend now to read them all.

Apr 03, 2013 s.penkevich rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime

‘He felt the desertion, the wind, the coming of darkness as soon as he stepped from the saloon.’

Behind every corner of reality is the possibility that terror and violence can spring upon us. This dread is perfectly
captured in John Hawkes’ 1961 novel, The Lime Twig, a heist story centering on a horse race and a gang of criminals
holding a married couple at their whims in order to pull off their scheme. The Lime Twig is a burning ball of lucid
terror engulfed in an exquisite, nebulous narration that leaves the reader feeling beset by the very events on page as we
witness the characters’ own desires and fears lead them to the slaughter.

Although Hawke’s novel is difficult—demanding the readers full, constant attention and willingness to decipher the
intricate fragments of a world seemingly going mad around them—his ability to create a powerful, rhythmic prose that
dances like smoke across this vivid landscape of violence and betrayal will clutch the reader by the throat and ensure
that they can’t imagine even wanting to do anything less than fully submit and commit. Hawkes allows the reader to
experience the action in a similar fashion as his characters, who face the world through a various hazes like
drunkenness, fog or fear.

‘Yet, whatever was to come his way would come, he knew, like this—slowly and out of a thick fog. Accidents, meetings unexpected, a figure
emerging to put its arms about him: where to discover everything he dreamed of except in a fog. And, thinking of slippery corners, skin suddenly
bruised, grappling hooks going blindly through the water: where to lose it all if not in the same white fog.’

The confusion felt in the characters is shared by the reader, making us feel an active participant in the mayhem and
menace. Flannery O'Connor wrote that ‘you suffer The Lime Twig like a dream,’ which makes for a succinct metaphor
of this nightmarish narrative which twists and mutates before our eyes, often devoid of the very details that would allow
us to rationalize and assess the monstrous visions before they transform into another horrific scene. As Michael Banks is
powerless to control the events set up just for him, the reader is powerless to control the narrative written for them;
Hawkes crafts a devilishly wild ride where all we can do is hold on tight and endure the fantastic novel that transpires
like an apparition before our eyes.

While the novel often leaves the reader to find their bearings in the events taking place, each passage is rife with the
sights, smells and other vibrations of life, all culminating to chain the reader to the present of the scene. Hawkes also
demonstrates his mastery of tone, keeping a tight control on his language to affect the largest emotional response. His
metaphors and imagery cast the ordinary world in shadows. His descriptions of the criminals take on demonic stature
that seem to push the limits of reality, such as Miss Dora with ‘eyes like a female warden’s eyes, black, almost beside
each other, set into tiny spectacles with tweezers.’ There is also the gang leader, Larry, who despite often being depicted
as ‘angelic’, seems more like a fallen angel, an instrument of evil, in his metal armor and facial features: ‘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.’ Even the horse seems an instrument of evil, a beast of ancient times, bread to be an unstoppable force
terrorizing all, and the bit about having a chunk of its ancestors skull placed in its head gives a vile feeling of monstrosity
that cannot be shaken. The dark, elusive and nightmarish tones keep the reader feeling cornered and claustrophobic
before these unpredictable characters—a feeling that is further elevated by the constant tightly enclosed settings that
frequent the novel. Right from the start, especially in the first scene surrounding Banks, each word portends the disasters
that will follow and drenched the text in its ominous tone.

‘The great difficulty Hawkes has,’ said William H. Gass in a recent interview with Tin House, ‘is to take something
that is so revolting in life and write about it beautifully. That makes people mad, you know? Because they think you’re
doing something, you’re advising or approving the situation, which isn’t the case. That’s one reason he liked violence.
There are scenes in The Lime Twig that are so beautiful, so awful. That’s art, boy.’

Gass makes a great commentary on the violence here, which is often nearly lost in the shaky visuals of the narrative,
occurring right before the readers nose but hidden from them at the same time; Hawkes artfully depicts the violence by
transmitting it to the reader through vague, irrepressible feelings of discomfort and terror instead of simply creating a
blood bath out of words. The first death, when the horse kicks in a mans head, occurs beneath prose that never takes it’s
eye off the violent event. The man ‘tries to speak, and slides suddenly into the dark of the van’, he slips into the abyss to
meet his doom, as the text portrays the fear and commotion emanating from the disaster, implying the death without
ever explicitly showing it. Each death is like that, and the reader almost misses it even though it happens right there, but
the narrative portrays the obfuscation of fear and the motion of escape. Characters are alive, then lost in the blindspots
for a moment, a bloody corpse suddenly appears from the mist, and then lost again as another matter comes into focus
and all we are left with is that fear, that feeling, that abstract horror or events we cannot understand which creates a far
more powerful resonance than any cold depiction of the violent act could have.

This is a crime story where everything is seemingly lost, nothing gained, yet the reader will leave feeling a heavy burden
from the events they have passed through. We watch the criminals orchestrate the common man and his wife, dancing
them like marionettes for their purposes, and we watch this man and wife willfully dance in order to chase their ill-fated
desires. These desires are the lime twigs, an old device to catch birds comprised of a branch covered in a sticky
substance called birdlime, through which they are ensnared. It is her love of her husband that leads Margaret Banks
into their trap, and Michael Banks is snared by his lust and thereby kept as a semi-willing accomplice. The criminal
activity was initiated by their tenant, Hencher, in his desire to repay the Banks’ the kindness they had shown him. We
watch Michael Banks falls from grace, trying to liven his boredom of domestic life by agreeing to the heist, and then
subsequently betraying his young wife to bed each of the various women he meets, and can only attempt to redeem
himself through a final act of destruction. The reader moves, shivering with shame, towards the dramatic finale. In
keeping with the idea of a crime drama, which almost seems parodied to be used as a springboard for Hawkes greater
purpose, there is a slight detective element to the novel through Sidney Slyter’s newspaper column interludes. Although
Slyter was a late addition at the request of Hawkes publisher to clear up some of the confusion of the novel (found in this
wiki article), he serves as the detached voice of reason and attempts to piece together the crime as the novel progresses.
Slyter does keep the reader on track with what is going on, but the switch in narration, from a third person narration
that is intensely embedded in the story to a first person that is far removed from the events, creates a wonderful effect.

This novel is slightly more straightforward and accessible than Hawkes’ grotesquely fantastic second novel, The Beetle
Leg while still retaining the vivid surrealistic quality that made Beetle Leg so wonderful. I felt that this book was all the
better for it as well. Short, yet dense, but immensely rewarding. It is a horse heist like Faulkner’s brilliant The Reivers
but removed of anything idyllic and replaced with a lurking distress, like The Reivers from hell and delivered in
spiraling madness (okay, the whole comparison does admittedly hinge solely on the fact that both books have a horse
race scheme). The Lime Twig is like a literary romp through your own disturbed dreams. It writhes on the edges of
reality, revealing itself in delirious fragments that drift through your mind like a shadowy specter.