The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western by Richard Brautigan (1974)
Since college, I have developed a greater appreciation of the Western genre in film and literature. In particular, I enjoy the modern deconstructions of the genre (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Once Upon a Time in America, Blood Meridian, etc.). I had never felt inclined to pick up anything by Richard Brautigan, having foolishly discounted him as a post-hippie literary author. While the novel is strongly post-modern and experimental, its also a pretty straightforward Western. Because there’s that rich layer underneath of deconstruction it makes the main story that much more interesting.
The plot is very light and concerns two guns for hire, Cameron and Greer, who are enthralled by a mysterious Native American girl, Magic Child whom leads them back to her family home in the Great Plains. There, they meet Mrs. Hawkline, the owner of the house and some strange blurring of identity occurs between Magic Child and Hawkline. The two gunmen are also told they are being hired to kill an unseen monster that lives in the ice caves that run underneath the house. All the while, Brautigan refers to a presence that moves through the house unseen.
The story is a fantasy that is concerned with the idea of doubles. There are characters that act as doubles and conversations routinely repeat, with characters entranced and unaware. The result is that our protagonists feel as though they are not progressing through the story. The expedition into the ice caves is constantly on the precipice of happening, but there is always a coincidental distraction that pulls them away. The result is an intentional frustration in the reader that ultimately pays off with the unconventional epilogue. This is not a novel for a casual reader, but for someone who wants an intellectual challenge.