Hook Man Speaks

Hook Man Speaks

by Matt Clark

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Hook Man Speaks by Matt Clark

The Hook Man-the nightmare of romantic teens on Lovers Lanes from coast to coast-is an enduring and frightening urban legend. But what if he had a name? Fears of his own? What if he was real? He is. In this funny, touching, and completely unpredictable novel, Matt Clark lets everyone in on a dark secret in American pop culture, and gives the Hook Man a heart-and a voice-like no other in contemporary fiction.

"Part picaresque, part urban folklore, part bildungsroman, and like no other novel I've ever read. Deftly written, funny, at times heartbreaking." (Josh Russell, author of Yellow Jack)

"Inspired strangeness." (Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng)

"Clark's writing is illuminated by a child's sadness and by a young man's sensual hunger...a terrific book." (Andrei Codrescu, author of The Blood Countess)

"The gracious humanity of his Hook Man will earn Matt Clark a spot among the most beguiling characters in fiction." (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of The Last American Man and Pilgrims)

Author Biography: Matt Clark was a prolific short story writer who worked for Andrei Cordescu's Exquisite Corpse before becoming the director of the graduate writing program at Louisiana State University at the age of 29. He died at the age of 31. This is his only novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425181621
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 10/01/2001
Edition description: BERKLEY TR
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.55(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Most dreaded nightmare. Specter haunting campfires, slumber parties, freshman floors, treehouses. Supreme boogeyman. Me. The Hook. Alive. Semi-whole. Contemplating my place in culture and history.


"Do you ever recall being on Old County Line Road not far outside of Decatur, Georgia?" Dr. Brautigan says, Mont Blanc twitching above his yellow legal pad.




    River Road, south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1972?"

    to the right?"




    my mailbox. All is blackness. I can't see, can't tell if there's anything there waiting for me to come home and drag it out into the sunlight. I smell and smell, hoping for a trace of Rosemary's perfume. Is that it? Hovering over the doom-sweetened scent of just-mowed grass? I can't tell.

    good-bye, sprint from the building, don't stop until I'm at my front door, at my mailbox, heart pounding, hopeful, flinging open the tiny tin door, pawing inside, dragging out a Piggly Wiggly flyer (Whole Fryers 98 Cents!), VISA application, carpet-cleaning ad. That's it.



At our next session Dr. Brautigan says, "The Dan Dee Cabins, Ruidoso, New Mexico. Fall of 1969?"

    yes. I want badly to help Dr. Brautigan; he's been so terribly nice. "The very air smelled of thunder and tequila?" I venture.


    study of me. For the last twenty-five years he's collected Hook Man stories from all over North America. Several months ago an article in Harper's prompted me to contact him. "I remember the sound of coyotes, possibly wild dogs," I tell him. "A gila monster had just bitten me on the toe, so I was really quite insane."

    to ascertain how many times I actually struck, in light of how many unjustified reports exist about my exploits. "Now," Dr. Brautigan says, "the young woman—a Miss Lorena Hidalgo—says she saw you in the rearview mirror over her boyfriend's shoulder."

    be recalling this, "I never got close to the car. The young woman squealed, and they drove off in their—was it a Camaro?"






    Oz being orange. Orange poppies, blue gingham dress, white snow. In the distance, emerald towers. Overhead, broom-spun terror.


    root-beer stand, actually."


I subscribe to these magazines: Newsweek. GQ. Harper's, as I have already pointed out. Southern Living, for the recipes. The New Yorker. Mad. Men's Fitness. Southwest Review. Architectural Digest. Premiere. The Southern Review. The Atlantic Monthly. Esquire. Spy. The Nose. Rolling Stone. Vanity Fair. I was a Time subscriber until their last format change. (You will notice: No People. No Us. No Reader's Digest.)

    I called all the subscription departments to make them aware of my new address. Although each said it would not be a problem, the March issues of Esquire and Southern Living have never found their way to me. I am currently composing stinging letters of complaint.

When I first met Rosemary she impressed me by immediately asking what had become of my hand. We were sitting on neighboring stools at a café in Wichita Falls, Texas. "What happened?" she said.

    ignore my hook completely. In general, people—excepting certain children and, of course, my "victims"—ignore ME completely.

    by most standards, a special touch. It was not slow and charged with erotic intention, nor tentative, like that of a frightened schoolgirl dared to touch a newly captured garden snake. Rosemary's touch was remarkable only in its normalcy, being no more aggressive than that of a grandmother reaching out to test the ripeness of a grocery store tomato.






"And you are how old?" Dr. Brautigan asked during our first session.


    held cigarlike between his lips.

    and a little older than my teeth." I smiled—showed him my perfect set of teeth—but Brautigan continued to just sit. People do this with me quite a bit. They assume I am leaving things out, that my incompleteness isn't just physical but verbal, possibly even mental.

    "do you remember most vividly from your childhood?"


When I was in fourth grade, my family moved to a farm near Alvarado, Texas. That was the year we studied dinosaurs, and were urged to search out fossils in our afternoon wanderings, ordered to present our finds to the class for examination and identification.

    number of heart-shaped rocks, each stamped with an elaborate and beautiful design. The best ones I gathered carefully, cautious of the melon-yellow scorpions that were so plentiful—sometimes even in our bathtub—in the early fall. Selecting the three most perfect specimens, each a chalky-gray, fist-sized miracle, I carried them home to delicately bathe and dry them, wrapped each in a bed of toilet paper and set them next to my completed homework.

    found a veritable elephants' graveyard of hearts. A valentine quarry. But my discovery was not nearly so romantic or awesome as I had hoped it might be. The foundations of science did not quake.

    "From when this whole area was covered by an ocean millions of years ago. Not hearts. Just sea urchins. Common in virtually every area of North America," she concluded.

    hands. Rode a bike like a normal boy. Played outfield, dreading the approach of any fly ball that might take me away from my contemplation of the turf and rocks and sprouting bluebonnets. When Mrs. Custer came to stand in front of me, I blushed and held both hands out, cupped to receive not a communion wafer but the shower of petrified sea urchins that tumbled from my teacher's upended palms.

Brautigan passes out questionnaires in his freshman survey class. From these, he determines the local spots most likely to harbor high school students' most ardent bursts of backseat passion. Of the forty-two students who complete the form, thirty-six are from Alpine or the surrounding area. Of those thirty-six, twenty-nine agree Indian Lodge State Park is a hotbed of hormonal tension and release. Twenty of those twenty-nine admit to losing their virginity there. Sixteen of those twenty are male. Seven of those sixteen are named Mike.



    area for your usual purpose?"

    urge. I shut my eyes and try to awaken the memory inside me. The darkness. The moonlit bumpers. Interiors lit by radio dials. Crickets. Branches breaking under my creeping step. Sepulchral organ chords that only I can hear.



This is the first time I've seen Dr. Brautigan not wearing chinos, a denim shirt, beautiful silk tie. Instead, he sports jeans, my favorite flannel shirt (dollar-bill green and black with a few threads of red mixed in). He crouches in the bushes next to me. We've been here since dusk, sitting on our haunches, watching the skies darken, the ocotillo turn into hydras, the saguaro into Martians. I am just about to ask Dr. B. what he thinks about The New Yorker's new image—its new smell—when I hear the murmur of an approaching vehicle. The murmur turns into a growl. Headlights sweeping past us like dragon eyes, a pickup track rolls to a stop under a live oak twenty yards away.


    to us. I give Brautigan the thumbs-up.


    straining to see inside the truck. "That's not the point."






    of the brush, I take off my hook and hand it to him. "You'll need this," I say.

    it in his right hand, pulls the cuff of his sleeve down around it. "Good man," I hiss.

    the pickup. I try to send a psychic command to him. "Limp!" I think. He either gets the message or remembers how we rehearsed this, because he pauses for a moment, shakes his head, then proceeds, dragging one leg like dead weight. I get a shiver watching Brautigan do this. It's like watching myself. A memory. But in 3-D. Tangible.

    heart races, claws its way up my rib cage into my esophagus, where it cowers behind my uvula, watching, waiting for the inevitable scream.

    door handle and ...


    to look at me, he shrugs, holds his palms out like, "Now what?" I return the gesture. He reaches down slowly and gets the hook, then scurries back to where I'm crouching, my mouth agape.








    hear his frustration in the growl and roar of the engine—and they speed away.

    what it's like."

    friends what happened, the mysterious sound will be attributed to a mountain lion. A lost Pomeranian, maybe."







I arrived in Alpine by train. Dr. Brautigan sent me enough money to travel by air, but I chose to ride the rails, to see the land, all the crossings with their flashing lights and zebra-striped arms. I sold all my possessions in a garage sale that—even though it wasn't much—seemed to thrill the college students and old ladies who milled around my cast-off clothes and books and mementos. I suspect they were excited mainly because everything I owned had originally been bought from garage sales. I occupied a home composed entirely of refuse from Tallahassee's spring cleanings. My yard became a clearinghouse of thrift and kitsch for the most discriminating.

    mine) and Fiesta ware and all of it—all of it—went and went fast. I had lettered my signs FRIDAY SATURDAY AND SUNDAY ONLY, but on Saturday morning there was so little left that I decided it wasn't worth setting up the tables to display the measly leftovers. Nevertheless, by 9:30 A.M. a horde of eager shoppers clamored at my doorstep.




    something back?"

    rear of the crowd crooned. "In funny shapes. Do you have any of those?"


    grabbed a box half full of forks missing tines and matchless socks and set it outside the door. "There," I said. "You can have it."

    "Trash," he said to the people behind him. He looked up at me and, shaking his head, hissed, "Trash."

    give us trash?" the salt-shaker lady squeaked.

    That's everything I have. Now go away." I raised my hook next to my face. "Before something bad happens." I drove my hook through the flimsy screen and ripped it from top to bottom.

    my security deposit was now forever lost. But happy to be rid of my earthly possessions. And with a pocket full of cold, hard cash earmarked for the train-station newsstand, a tabloid utopia.

A train affords so much to its passengers, so much more than airplanes do. The comfort is superior: Legroom. Food. The absence of sickening turbulence. No attendants who hate you but are unable to speak their minds. No fluctuating air pressure, ear popping, head aching. Trains allow one to revel in the passage of time and trees and cities and magazines. On a train, I can wallow in magazines, piglike, rooting out truffles of well-researched health articles, stylish photo essays, revealing profiles and delicious short stories. There are treasures to be found in periodicals, but one must search carefully, without haste. On a train, I can hunt lazily and savor my finds languorously.

    in the middle of a bridge. "What are you? Rich?"







    front porch, back porch, sidewalk, driveway?"












    or printed by one of those Quick-Sign places?"

    sales and vicious dogs and solicitors."


    the signs."



    The media is a powerful tool. You ought to know that."







    car for five hundred. Perfect condition. Low mileage. Practically new."


    secretary. Phoned from Acapulco and told her to sell the car and send him the cash. Everything else was hers."









    can afford a nice car. But my dentist got this Ferrari cheap."


    back to the used-car lot."




    just wouldn't stay sold. He kept lowering the price, and people kept buying the car and bringing it back. Man died in it."








    and a strong stomach might could tame her. You ought to look into it."


    the other one said. "Mother Nature takes care of her children. The Good Lord provides. Stevie Wonder can play the piano like an angel. Blind as a bat and he plays like an angel."



"A student told me about this," Brautigan says.

    Shop, past creaking University Stadium. Alpine falls behind us like a toy on a sandbox hill, Fisher-Price village, Lilliputian college-ville. Midget post office, five-and-dime, movie theater, barbecue joint, halls of learning, all of them shrinking behind me until they are gone. (Or maybe I'm getting larger, like a fifties monster-movie radiation victim grown to dwarf loved ones and enemies, finally falling dead amongst a mob of olive-green tanks and colossal-boot-flattened bazooka shooters.) The city evaporates. Ahead of us, sunburnt mesas glow red in the waning daylight, monsters bigger even than myself.




    subject. "This particular phenomenon is not uncommon. I've read a number of reports placing it in almost every midwestern state. Big in Missouri for some reason. But I had no idea it was here until this student told me about it." Brautigan steers with his left hand on the wheel, right resting on the stick shift, comfortable, at ease, relaxed, like it feels good to drive that way.







    segmented and writhing, hopeless. But the road behind us is empty; the snake has either hightailed it onto the shoulder to take inventory of its squashed parts and curse us, or it's hanging on to the bumper even now, slithering up over the downed ragtop, tongue-flicking, spine-sore, hungry for revenge.






    light or jerkily lowering arm. Just identifying X signs on either side of the road. The landscape is so unencumbered by anything you'd have to be blind and deaf to miss a train bulleting through the desert here. On top of that, this road is spectacularly lonesome. I suspect it peters out no more than a mile or two ahead, the black tar and weather-cracked cement dissipating into sand, hardscrabble and the occasional Apache arrowhead. "Iron Horse," I say.



    rise where road and rails mesh. "We pull up here like so, turn the motor off"—he does—"and wait for the dead kids to push us off the tracks to safety." He reaches behind my seat and begins to rummage around. I can hear a slight splash of water, ice against glass, glass against glass, glass and ice and water against Styrofoam, skin against glass, water against water. "I have been told some level of intoxication is advantageous in conjuring them." He pulls his arm back into the front seat holding two beers. "Drink 'em if you got 'em."

    dark out. The cloudy sky shields us from the stars and whatever moon is up at bat. When my eyes finally adjust to the headlights' absence, the road ahead becomes almost visible. A jackrabbit, its fur vaguely luminous, plops onto the center stripe, stops, sits up on its hind legs to sniff the air.

    "Kids're having a sleepover at the house tonight. It'll be crank calls, water balloons and Ouija board hysteria till two at least."




    that got stuck on the track when the train was coming and couldn't stop in time. They push us to safety. The ghosts, that is."


Excerpted from HOOK | MAN | SPEAKS by MATT CLARK. Copyright © 2001 by The Estate of Matthew Clark. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Hook Man Speaks 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome and inspiring book. It is sad that we have lost such a great writer.