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The Beetle Leg

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  224 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
The Beetle Leg, John Hawkes's second full-length novel, was first published by New Directions in 1951. Now, after more than sixty years, this brilliant novel is emerging as a classic of visionary writing and still remains Hawkes's only work devoted solely to American life. As a "surrealist Western" (Newsweek), and a violent and poetic portrayal of "a landscape of sexual ap ...more
Paperback, 159 pages
Published January 17th 1951 by New Directions (first published January 1st 1951)
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Best New Directions Books
55th out of 110 books — 117 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 1950's
332nd out of 666 books — 944 voters

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Community Reviews

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Nov 17, 2012 s.penkevich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: McCarthy fans and those who like to work the grey matter
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Eric
It is a lawless country.

Reading John Hawke’s second novel, the purgatorial western The Beetle Leg, is like being a small child awake during the night, staring in horror at some formless dark beast of the imagination that lurks within the shadows of their room. The plot, notorious for its obtuseness and the stunning surrealism which furthers the difficulty of finding a handhold from which to cling, churns forward with growing dread and silent monstrosities that rivals even that of Krasznahorkai’s
Mike Puma
Nov 26, 2012 Mike Puma rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people I had it in for
Shelves: ugh, 2012

I am an uncontrolled variable.

The text, in this case The Beetle Leg, is the independent variable.

My reaction, or yours, or anyone else’s would be the dependent variable.

With this experimental novel, one might (I was) tempted to say that the experiment failed, but experiments don’t fail—they produce unexpected results, or results unhoped for.

I did not enjoy this one. Not at all. Not one little bit. I’ve looked over at my unfinished copy. For more than a week. 10 pages to the end, an

Nov 25, 2012 knig rated it liked it
It has been said Hawkes writes but doesn’t read. As in, he’s unreadable. Well, he is. I mean, he does. Theres a whole lot of nothing much going on here, but I’ve been weaned on de Chirico’s Hebdemeros, the quintessential book about nothing, so this isn’t going to send me on a wild goose chase so easily. Plus, the guy was only 23 when he wrote it: its very possible he had nothing much to say to begin with: how many of us do at that age?

But if he is thin on plot and action, butter won’t melt in h
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Aug 04, 2013 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-directions
I continue to be perplexed by the early novels of John Hawkes. His claims to have had no interest in conventional elements of the novel--character, plot, themes, etc--have never been born out by what he’s written; I don’t believe him. His books were introduced to me by John Barth, and nothing could be in starker contrast than the story-drunk Barth and the austerity of early Hawkes. But story, narrative, and plot, just like character, live rich lives in Hawkes, even if one needs to read far far b ...more
Sep 11, 2008 Jimmy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
"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."

This seems to me, to be the mission statement for most experimental fiction. The concept of the death of the novel always sounded a little too gimmicky for my taste. It's more appropriate for a contemporary writer to simply state that the novel
May 09, 2013 William1 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, us, 20-ce
Tried twice, found this unreadable. As friend AC said, there's something "deeply inauthentic" here. Read The Lime Twig instead. You'll be glad you did.
Nate D
The barest tracings of a story (a myth? a nightmare?) bubbling up through an indistinguishable murk of words and description. It's not incoherent, it's not nonsense, it just rigorously defies all effort to extract any overarching sense or purpose.
j. ergo
Jan 26, 2016 j. ergo rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who like dark shit & don't have to understand everything
Recommended to j. ergo by: no one
I have no idea what just happened to me as I finished this book. I have very little idea what happened in the book. The plot is there, seemingly right in front of you, and yet. . . and yet, it is still, a week after finishing it, almost completely indiscernible. More importantly, it is seemingly entirely unnecessary. I keep saying seemingly, I think, because a) I am trying to evoke a feeling I got that, while things may seem to be this way or that, or saying this or saying that, that they are no ...more
Nov 21, 2011 AC marked it as books-i-don-t-quite-seem-to-get
I read a chunk of this and had no idea why... lots of descriptions about boots and tables or something... But what bothered me most is that this is an Ivy League professor trying to sound like he's a dirt cowboy in Montana -- just as, in the Lime Twig (which worked better, I thought), he was trying to sound like a working class Brit. There is something deeply inauthentic about this - though I suppose that some would call him a "master of style". Anyway -- to each his own.
Charlie Zoops
Jun 04, 2012 Charlie Zoops rated it it was amazing

Before reading one of John Hawkes books, it is helpful to understand the author's intentions,
“I write out of a series of pictures that literally and actually do come to mind, but I’ve never seen them before. It is perfectly true that I don’t know what they mean, but I feel and know that they have meaning,” He says, and it is clear that the interest lies in verbal and psychological coherence, rather than any conventional plot that can be followed easily.
With the overlapping time-frames, and chara
Jul 27, 2012 Courtney rated it really liked it
this is my first Hawkes novel. i didn't think i would finish it. i kept saying, "i'm 40 pages/60 pages/halfway through this thing and i have no clue what it's even about!" now i've got 10 pages left in this book and i'm still not totally sure what's happening, but i still cannot put it down. the delivery is so alluring, the scenes are beautifully eerie and vivid, offering an impression of a scene with gritty detail on a few focal points. i suppose that's really how i recall most books anyway, no ...more
Brent Legault
Aug 19, 2008 Brent Legault rated it liked it
Thick, chewy stew of a novel poured into a small bowl. Plenty of gristle. Salty, salty but shy on spice. Nearly choked a time or two. Wouldn't recommend it as an airplane or commuter train read but an excellent choice for solitary confinement or for those that are trapped under rubble.

Michael David
Dec 27, 2014 Michael David rated it did not like it
Whenever I read a novel set in the American South, Faulkner usually becomes my measuring stick. I think the reason is obvious: Toni Morrison, in a recent interview with BBC's Talking Books, praised the ability of Faulkner to not generalize people into stereotypes. She contrasted Faulkner's ability to characterize with the stock, stereotyped characters seen even in works by Hemingway. It's high praise: Morrison is the latest American Nobel laureate in literature, and to speak with such deference ...more
Rick Seery
Uncompromising, poetic, concrete yet amorphous - wedged like a tight desert rock between Faulkner and McCarthy but maybe more pungent than either. Hawkes' attention to verbal detail makes me think of what sort of novel Nick Shay's Jesuit teacher from DeLillo's Underworld might have conceived.

The fact, man, give me the irrefragable fact! as Jack London bleated.

I think of Bill Pullman walking down the corridor of his own apartment in Lost Highway when I read Hawkes: that ambience of baleful banali
Feb 17, 2013 Doc rated it it was amazing
Not quite as accomplished as "Second Skin" or later novels (his next novel, The Lime Twig would be his breakout book), this seemed like a warm up for Cormac McCarthy's books of the West, particularly Blood Meridian which it echoes in tone and hyper-realism. The prose style employed here is bravura and exhilerating.
Dec 04, 2015 Aramys rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
La pata del escarabajo es una novela absolutamente excelsa, ambientada casi toda ella al abrigo de la oscuridad nocturna, del polvo del desierto, una novela que lleva casi al extremo la definición de western gótico, una novela que nos hace pensar el Cormac McCarthy, en Faulkner, una novela que apesta a pobreza, a ropa sucia, a comida pasada, a gallinero, a cuadra, a gasolina, a alquitrán, a pólvora, a aire viciado, a humedad, a sureño. Una novela que nos desafía una y otra vez para darnos cien v ...more
Jan 09, 2014 Szplug rated it liked it
Nota bene: Do not read the following if you have no desire to discover what happens, though I make no guarantee to having accurately set forth what did—and, seeing as it makes not a lick of sense to those not partially subsumed within the ghost world, what the fuck do you care if it seeks to squeal that business anywho?

The sheriff narrates the opening chapter in a tongue thick with twanged weariness and the dust of life.

Luke Lampson has an older brother, Mulge—the man the sheriff spies frozen by
Aug 06, 2015 Logan added it
Not rating this one either because I'm giving up. But, I have to say, there's a difference between a challenging book, and a flat-out boring one. At least, I think there is. I don't know. I'm a dumb-dumb. If you need me I'll be over in the corner making farting noises with my mouth.
Mar 17, 2008 Carl rated it really liked it
This book is good, but SO dense, a more difficult read than Gravity's Rainbow, at least in my experience. It's a little bit Thomas Pynchon, a little bit Cormac McCarthy. The Lime Twig was more of a Hawkes page-turner.
Nov 15, 2007 Adam rated it liked it
An opaque, surreal parody of a western. Grotesque and confusing, will bring to mind Faulkner and Dante(and David Lynch).
Apr 22, 2010 Abe rated it really liked it
Cap Leech is a good antecedent for McCarthy's Judge, except that things are even more discordant here.
Nov 10, 2013 Mohsen rated it really liked it
So amazing
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John Hawkes, born John Clendennin Talbot Burne Hawkes, Jr., was a postmodern American novelist, known for the intensity of his work, which suspended the traditional constraints of the narrative.
Born in Stamford, Connecticut, and educated at Harvard University, Hawkes taught at Brown University for thirty years. Although he published his first novel, The Cannibal, in 1949, it was The Lime Twig (196
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