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Second Skin

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  336 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
Skipper, an ex-World War II naval Lieutenant and the narrator of Second Skin, interweaves past and present—what he refers to as his "naked history"—in a series of episodes that tell the story of a volatile life marked by pitiful losses, as well as a more elusive, overwhelming, joy. The past: the suicides of his father, wife and daughter, the murder of his son-in-law, a bru ...more
Paperback, 210 pages
Published November 28th 2005 by New Directions (first published 1965)
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Aug 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Yeah, what the hell. Why not? I love books about characters that morbidly exist in the wake of a loved one's suicide. I love misery. God, that sounds so typically melodramatic. Maybe I mean that I love light being made of human misery and suffering.

Some days I wake up, and I can see nothing but the comedic aspect of life's ridiculous restrictions; poverty, biological disintegration, regret, doubt, illness, failure, humility, disappointment, etc. I want at least the delusion that I can exert any
Aug 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
" Overhead the dawn was beginning to possess the sky, squadrons of gray geese lumbered through the blackness, and I was walking on pebbles, balancing and rolling forward on the ocean's cast-up marbles, or wet and cold was struggling across stray balustrades of shale. At my shoulder was the hump of the shore itself – tree roots, hollows of pubic moss, dead violets – underfoot the beach – tricky curvatures of stone, slush of ground shell, waterspouts, sudden clefts and crevices, pools that reflect ...more
Nate D
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fourteenth floor of a suicide flophouse
Recommended to Nate D by: the frantic flight of nightbirds
A fugue of memory and loss, a series of episodes in spectral places that hover in the dark, suffused in sorrow and menace.

While this drifts forwards and back through time like the fantastic Death, Sleep & the Traveler, and maintains the elegant unearthly stillness of Hawkes' descriptions of each place and action, real or perhaps slightly imagined, this one drifts in larger chunks, with less sense of momentum between sections (as each must build itself up anew). It took me a full 50 pages for
Jamie Grefe
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
I would give this five stars, but this book nailed me with its density. Hawkes is a master of grabbing by the hair and guiding the head around the room to the most spectacular details and oddities happening where I just wasn't looking (couldn't look). He's in control here and a large part of this book was just too verbally slick for me to imagine. My mind wanted to read on its own terms, but Hawkes wants us to play by his rules from the get-go. Well, that incapacity to escape is my fault, perhap ...more
Dec 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Linguistically unimpeachable. An excellent lesson in the line between the weirdness a reader can bear and the weirdness they can't, and how that line can be manipulated through language. I would argue, however, that you could read eighty pages of this book and understand the themes and the language as well as you would at two-hundred, and that Hawkes' manifest lack of interest in plot can make some of the dislocations in the prose needlessly difficult. Also, Skipper's blinkered narrative viewpoi ...more
Jan 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fascination/obsession and strangeness form the foundation of Second Skin. The structure of the novel is deconstructed to the very edge of nonsense and then pushed one step further passed the realm of hallucination into the soft substance of pure art. At no time did the writing feel self-indulgent or secretive. (Perhaps one of the most difficult tests of surrealist texts.) Rather, the prose is open and bold - "naked history" is the desire of the narrator.

Oddly enough - despite Hawkes masterful a
Jan 21, 2008 added it
Wow, this is a motherf*&$er of a book. Why no one told me about this until I was 30 I have no idea. It's like they hid this one from you. As equally towering as the highest achievements of Delillo or Pynchon, those guys should pass the PoMo crown to Hawkes for a spell. I can't find sentences as perfect as the ones in this book pretty much anywhere. A solid gold wretched story about one man's beyond brutal life -- whether the brutality is from himself or from life is often debatable and his e ...more
Nov 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Papa Cueball seems to have lived in all that darkest most desolate regions where sea meets land, his recollections an absurd collage of snowball fights, car chases on beaches, abandoned lighthouses, mixed with incest, suicide, and murder. Dark but humorous in very disconcerting way.
Vit Babenco
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Second Skin is a dark nonlinear story modeled on the Greek tragedies.
“For it is time now to recall that sad little prophetic passage from my schoolboy’s copybook with its boyish valor and its antiquity, and to admit that the task of memory has only brightened these few brave words, and to confess that even before my father’s suicide and my mother’s death I always knew myself destined for this particular journey, always knew this speech to be the one I would deliver from an empty promontory or in
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: someone, anyone.
Recommended to Nathanael by: Tom LeClair
for all the extent novels that explore the hidden but ever present wonder and greatness of humanity, there needs to exist a book like this. Know that sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you see a parent at a mall smack their kid in public and know its not gonna be any better for the kid at home? Reading second skin is like that to the 100th degree, only Hawkes drags you with him into the home as well. The impotence of the main character is often sympathetic, but disheartening as well. A ...more
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is basically the greatest novel I've read in about 15 years - the writing is like the greatest parts of Pynchon and Coover tempered with the beautiful glissandos of Kathryn Davis - just that dazzling firework proze that never feels flashy or pomo.
After much thought, the first book I decided to read from Tom and Wendy's collection...
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
How to express this? Not quite like the book I will write, but a book I might -- and maybe will -- read again and again. Beautiful, terrible, odd, rich, sweet and uncanny. A work of art.
Chuck Bento
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was my introduction to Hawkes, who is to literature what the great surrealists are to art. Yet his writing is so vivid and the images so sharp, I will never forget some of these scenes, like the tattoo parlour and the snowball attack and the lighthouse. Hawkes deserves to be far better known and, hopefully with this edition and preface by the wonderful Jeffrey Euginedes, will go some way to remedying this situation.
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: new-directions, 2014

Skipper, hapless and seasick Navy man, bumbles around plagued by closeness of death since childhood, while infantilizing his daughter Cassandra (compare to Greek namesake), whose faith in him hovers at a lukewarm tolerance, until it becomes something sharper. Skipper yearns to always do the right thing, but always falls flat. Suicides abound in his life but he still keeps pasting a smile on his face. The action is primarily juxtaposed on two islands: one a cold gothic rock of impending doom peop
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Hawkes has an unusual style. His sentences range from inscrutably fragmented, to lushly poetic, to jarringly succinct. I believe that Hawkes employed most of the syntactical strategies present in Second Skin much more effectively in The Lime Twig. In addition, Hawkes' commitment to writing disconcertingly original sentences lags off towards the middle of this short novel where the author's prose degenerates into a mediocre (though much more readable) imitation of Faulkner.

That said, the novel ha
Jan 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
I was between 2 and 3 stars on this one, and I was going to bump it up to 3 because the writing - that is, the sentence to sentence writing - is quite beautiful, really. But all of those sentences put together became a slog of a story that starred a sad sack narrator who wasn't just kind of lame, but also kind of creepy. Whenever I feel this way about a book, my first inclination is to assume that I wasn't reading it smartly enough or that I missed something in the text, so if that's the case, s ...more
Jan 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Current read. I feel sorry for this poor man from the beginning. I am enjoying Hawkes writing style very much. More upon finishing...

This was a fantastic read. The sorryness of the character's life is increased with each chapter and apparently extreme lows in life are pushed even lower the longer this poor man lives.
Somehow Hawkes put one man's near constant misery into an enjoyable package that isn't simply depressing nor tear-jerking. Rather, engaging, only semi-emotional and dare say it, ent
Dec 18, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
Overwrought, self-consciously weird but only occasionally interesting, and utterly racist. Hawkes's prose is always great, and so I sometimes pick this one back up when I can't fall asleep or need to take a break from whatever I'm reading at the time... but I've never been able to finish it. If the silly "belly-bumping contest" scene doesn't get me, the asinine "sunbathing woman with a kimodo dragon attached to her back" scene will.
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rereading
Hot damn! I can't say enough about professor Hawkes here. This book has become something of an obsession for me. How freakin lush can you get? Every single passage is edible. You can literally peel Second Skin open to any page and find something that will make you swoon. It took me an extraordinarily long time to finish the first time through. I simply couldn't keep myself from back tracking to reread line after line, paragraph after paragraph.
Pete Camp
Oct 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really enjoy reading Hawkes. Wonderful prose and a little more accessible than the Cannibal or the Lime Twig. However made me feel a little more misanthropic at times than I normally like to. There was a nice little gem in there too: wake with a loving thought work with a happy thought sleep with a gentle thought. Hawkes should be more widely read
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: David Lynch fans
Hawkes is an author that writes sentences that you want to read a hundred times. Each read reveals new meaning within the sentence and adds to the novel's building beauty. At times the plot or action may not make much sense, but it doesn't really matter. Just reading the next sentence keeps you going.
Rachel Kendall
Apr 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Oh I am loving this book. Favourite quote so far: 'So, the naked soldiers. White shoulder blades, white arms, white shanks, white strips of skin, white flesh, and in the loins and between the ribs and on the inside of the legs soft shadow. But white and thin and half-starved and glistening like watery sardines hacked from a tin.'
Dec 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Passages were incredible, and the whole has a sinuous movement that is beyond evocative. I feel like I missed something, which is perhaps because the central character feels as if he missed something... which he did, of course, but I missed what exactly it was.
Nia Nymue
Jun 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
Did not finish the second chapter. Too bizarre. The narrator described a woman in excruciating detail and interacted with her as though she was his lover and the woman calls him her boyfriend, but they turn out to be father and daughter. Very hard to read. Not finishing the book.
Feb 14, 2009 added it
engrossing tale of chumpness, resulting in bliss at last...elusive meanings, never quite understood what the author was trying to say...left me transformed, nite quite sure how.
Apr 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Hawkes is very difficult, but very good, the book follows the turgid life of Skipper and all the tragedies life throws at him.
Thom Dunn
{Dallas Wiebe, Contemporary American Lit, circa 1968}
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Book-length prose poem with some beautiful moments but often confusing and dull. The good chapters (The Brutal Act in particular) are outweighed by the chaff.
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful story where our hero Skipper survives never-ending bad and sad luck to find peace in the jungle as an artificial inseminator of cows.
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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
More about John Hawkes...
“No appetite. No sensation in a dry stomach. No desire. No orchids sweet enough to taste. Not the sort of woman to eat sandwiches on a bus. At least not the sort of woman who would eat in the dark. Not anymore.” 0 likes
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