Something's bothering John Swope, a one-legged sculptor and veteran of the Korean War. He is insisting on paying up all his old bogus gambling debts and the crazy bets he lost (like the one where his desert buddy, Paul, guessed the exact height--to an inch--of a mesa). But what's bugging him? John and Paul, best friends, have been surveying a piece of the New Mexican desert for almost 30 years, working for the mysterious Foundation. For what--or whom--they've never known. They've drifted into lassitude, taking creative liberties with their surveying. "We add mesas and draws and sometimes whole mountain ranges, and we change the courses of rivers. It doesn't much matter to us anymore where we put things."
But underneath the nonchalance looms some menace. Mysteries begin to accumulate, as do an assortment of strangers compelled to the desert--Caliope, who's building a desert town designed to be washed away; the Dinosaur Men--archaeologists in search of ancient bone. When the two crusty surveyors discover that their measurements and readings taken in the past are incorrect, more seems to be shifting than the land's contours.
The descriptions of landscape are worth the price of this slim novel. "It's blue in the evening, and then purple again, and then black, as if all the day's shadows had collected themselves for the next day's inevitable explosion." G.W. Hawkes writes a prose both clipped and lyrical; he creates memorable characters with a few deft strokes. Surveyor is a novel sparsely yet lyrically written about friendship and the impact that mysterious intrusions into their desert world brings. --Hollis Giammatteo
From Publishers Weekly
The close friendship of surveyors Paul Suope and John Merline and their lifetime project surveying desolate Horse Gap, New Mexico, come to an end in Hawkes's haunting first novel (another novel, Semaphore, will appear in August). The two met during the Korean War. Paul, an engineer, drove an ambulance and aided John, a history major with an interest in painting and sculpture, after he lost a leg. After the war, they were hired together by a mysterious foundation to chart the landscape of New MexicoAan arrangement that has lasted for more than 30 years. They live a reclusive life, obsessed with their mission until various outsiders invade their turf: a beautiful Ph.D. film student, Caliope Jones, wants to build a scale-model town and flood it on film; and several Dinosaur Men, archeologists, hired by the same foundation to document old bones. Suope and Merline find themselves in conflict with the scientists over how to handle several buried Indian skeletons, and this is the beginning of their drift apart. In the meantime, the novel chronicles the men's great exploit, the exploration of the underground river that they name the Surveyor. Hawkes burnishes the narrative with metaphorical experiences, including rides down hidden rivers in secret caves, hallucinatory visions after a scorpion's bite and one of John's art pieces, which may include sky debris from UFOs. This elegiac evocation of an unearthly landscape and the two aging men who call it home intimates that some of life's mysteries can never be solved.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.