American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

SECOND SKIN (1964). Second Skin, written by John Hawkes (1925- ), is a phantasmagoric, apparitional novel that focuses on a psychologically unstable narrator who recites his tale from a floating island off the coast of New England. It is difficult to differentiate the factual from the real in this novel, since we experience the point of view of the central character, Skipper. Skipper is an ex-navy officer whose life is filled with tragedy, including the apparent suicides of his father, his wife, and his daughter. He describes his journey on the floating island as one of survival against the greatest of odds. His ship is called Peter Poor, but the hallucinatory style of the novel makes it difficult to tell whether this ship is the one he was on while in the navy or while sailing with his family.

Many allusions to The Tempest (1623) can easily be identified, but the purpose they serve remains elusive. Like much of Hawkes’ other fiction, Second Skin is dominated by dream imagery. The sea plays a significant role in this novel because much of the action is set on the floating island, and much of the dream imagery involves the sea.

Ralph Berets