Whistlejacket

John Hawkes, Author Grove/Atlantic $17.95 (194p) ISBN 978-1-55584-049-5
Faintly menacing, deliberately ambiguous, heavy with sexual innuendo, the narrator's voice in this tightly spun, chilling new novel by accomplished writer Hawkes (Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade) is appropriate to the bizarre story that unfolds. As 28-year-old fashion photographer, horseman and fox hunter Michael slowly discovers, the grisly death of his mentor and quasi-father Harold O. Van Fleet is only one of the strange events that have taken place at Steepleton, the Van Fleet estate. Hal's survivors in this household brimming with unhealthy secrets include his wife Alex, daughter Virgie and permanent boarder Buse. All have been victims of Hal's erotic caprices and have something to do with his being trampled to death by his favorite horse, Marcabru. Hal had firmly believed the steed to be a descendant of the legendary Whistlejacket, whose portrait by George Stubbs is a family heirloom. (The circumstances under which Stubbs immortalized the horse on canvas form a fascinating flashback, which is, however, somewhat too patent and intrusive a device for the narrative as a whole.) As Michael unravels the web of family intrigue, he also reveals his own voyeuristic, obsessive, sadistic personality and his part in the proceedings. The mesmerizing novel culminates in a brutal fox-hunt scene that has few fictional parallels. The abrupt ending will send readers back to the text to ferret out ingenious clues. (August)
Reviewed on: 07/01/1988
Release date: 07/01/1988
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