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Surveyor by G.W. Hawkes
reviewed by J.M. Frank

Two men have spent the last thirty years in a hand-built house in the New Mexico desert with no electricity, no phone, and not much else. A mysterious non-profit foundation has placed them there to make maps. What good thirty years of map-making does for this foundation is a mystery. The story unfolds as the lives these two have quietly settled into over the decades is about to change.

Surveyor is a quiet novel that will probably not keep the reader up late at night turning pages to learn what happens next. This novel is not so much about telling a story as it is painting a portrait. It is a portrait of a person, a place, and of a feeling. The reader is left with a profound understanding of all of these. Having lived in the area, I can say that Hawkes does an excellent job of giving a sense of the New Mexico desert. He also successfully captures the mannerisms, dialect, and beliefs of the people living in the open Southwestern landscape.

Sometimes, however, Hawkes goes further with his descriptions than I would have liked, at other times, he just plain misses altogether. For example, on the second page of the story, Hawkes writes, "The New Mexico morning fell on them in soft, butter-colored triangles". Now, I have to tell you that no matter how long I sit and try to do so, it is just beyond my apparently limited imagination to see this. And this is after living there, remember. So don't think you should rush off to visit New Mexico to see these magical morning triangles, because you just might be disappointed. But I maybe a little unfair here. I have never been especially impressed by descriptive prose, so maybe some of the merits of these turns of phrase are lost on me.

Still, even when occasionally missing on specific images, the general feel of the desert is captured quite well by Hawkes. And I recommend this book for the general feelings it leaves one with. For example, the book gives a sense of solitude, wide landscapes, and loneliness, while at the same time leaving the reader with a sense of wonder, deep friendship, and moments of untouchable beauty. Without actually discussing it, Surveyor tells the story of a man trying to understand his place and purpose in this world. And though it may not give any explicit answers, the feelings it leaves are answers in themselves.

Buy this book directly from MacMurray & Beck

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