Richard Brautigan – The Hawkline Monster (1974)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1974, this “Gothic Western” endures as an offbeat classic. Tim Burton almost directed a movie adaptation starring Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, but Eastwood backed out and Burton went with Mars Attacks! instead. Smart decision.

The Hawkline Monster is a problematic story that fluctuates between pure spoof and legitimate horror. Most of the comedy comes from witty word choices and bizarre happenings, such as characters with little respect for the dead, human transformation into inanimate objects, and impromptu sex spurred on by supernatural forces.

The horror elements are minimal, yet occasionally there is a sense of unease from the mysterious ongoings about the remote house placed atop ice caves and inhabited by a monster. The title “Monster” is more of a psychological phenomenon than a creature to be feared, however. In that aspect the story reminds me of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, if VanderMeer were writing for laughs.

Fans of Western tropes will no doubt find some hyper-masculine humor peppered throughout. Meanwhile I struggled to spot commentary on Gothic motifs. Others have noticed them, though. Elsa J. Radcliffe, whose bibliography of Gothic novels published in the 1960’s and ’70s I greatly admire, actually gave this book high marks (she was picky, so this is rare). She described the book as a “naughty, satirical little venture” and predicted “any lover of Gothics who has a sense of humor should enjoy this farce.”

I don’t disagree with her, but I got my giggles more from the commentary on Westerns than on Gothics. Outside of a remote house with a spooky vibe, I didn’t see any connection to the genre. Anyway, The Hawkline Monster is a novella that can be read quickly and will satisfy a craving for clever writing with immature, over-the-top adventures. As recently as 2020 there’s been talk again of adapting it for film. With so much mystical imagery and fascinating juxtaposition it might be crazy enough to work on film. We’ll see if it ever happens!

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