Travesty is John Hawkes's most extreme vision of eroticism and comic terror. In the south of France, an elegant sportscar is speeding through the night, bearing a man, his daughter, and his best friend toward a fatal crash. As he drives, the "privileged man" justifies, in sustained monologue, his firm persuasion that willed destruction is the ultimate act of poetic imagination. "What I have in mind is an 'accident' so perfectly contrived that it will be unique, spectacular and instantaneous, a physical counterpart to that vision in which it was in fact conceived."

This is the final work in the triad of novels concerned with sex, myth, the imagination, and the absurd. The Blood Oranges (1971) is the acting out of a lyric dream; Death, Sleep & The Traveler (1974) a descent into the depths of psychic darkness to the edge of death; and Travesty an icily comic portrait of the poet as suicide and murderer. It is one of the most cruelly and brilliantly ironic works to be found in contemporary literature.


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 the 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 expert driver.

So you are going to relax, cher ami. You are determined to hide your trembling, achieve a few moments of silence, begin smoking one of your delightful cigarettes, and then after this appropriate expenditure of precious time and in the midst of your composure, then you will attempt to dissuade me, to talk me back to sanity (as you will express the idea), to appeal to my kindness and good sense. I approve. I am listening. The hour is yours. But of course you may use the lighter. Only reach for it slowly and keep in mind my warning. Do not be deceived by my good nature. I am as serious as a sheet of flame.

As for you, Chantal, you must stop that sobbing. I will not say it again. Don’t you know that Papa loves you? Not many young women have the opportunity of passing their last minutes in the company of lover and loving Papa both. The black night, the speeding car, the three of us, a glimpse of early snow curled in the roots of a fleeting roadside tree—it is a warm and comfortable way to go, Chantal. You must not be afraid.

And to think that we used to call her the “porno brat.” Yes, our own Chantal—no sooner was she able to . . .

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