This powerful short novel describes the events of a single afternoon. Alwyn Towers, an American expatriate and sometime novelist, is staying with a friend outside of Paris, when a well-heeled, itinerant Irish couple drops in—with Lucy, their trained hawk, a restless, sullen, disturbingly totemic presence. Lunch is prepared, drink flows. A masquerade, at once harrowing and farcical, begins. A work of classical elegance and concision, The Pilgrim Hawk stands with Faulkner’s The Bear as one of the finest American short novels: a beautifully crafted story that is also a poignant evocation of the implacable power of love.
…a slight, peculiar masterwork of 20th century letters….a cocktail of aphorism, acuity, and self-doubting narration, a novel that refuses to behave itself. What is so wonderful about The Pilgrim Hawk—and what remains jarring seventy years after its original serialization in Harper’s—is that it constantly goes against the grain of fictional narration…In The Pilgrim Hawk, Wescott suggests that when it comes to the most vital questions of life and love, it may be more worthwhile to ask rather than answer them.
—Ingrid Norton, Open Letters Monthly
It begins, this great American novel, with the voice of recollection; that is the voice of uncertainty…It belongs, in my view, among the treasures of twentieth—century American literature, however untypical are its sleek, subtle vocabulary, the density of its attention to character, its fastidious pessimism, and the clipped worldliness of its point of view.
— Susan Sontag, The New Yorker
Truly a work of art, of the kind so rarely achieved or attempted nowadays.
— Christopher Isherwood
I have the rather extraordinary experience of seeing a neglected book get rescued. It’s an American novel written in the’40s called The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott. It was largely forgotten, but The New York Review of Books started this series whereby they publish neglected masterpieces of the 20th century, and they asked me to write the introduction. Did I want to? No. I had never heard of it, I have a million other things to do. But they were persistent. They said, ‘Take a look at it and tell us what you think.’ I sighed and said all right. They sent it and I read the first few pages, and it just rocketed along.
It’s a story about class and passion and repression and murder. It’s just 90 pages long, a tiny little thing, but it contains whole worlds. I realized it was, in fact, a lost masterpiece. So I wrote the introduction, and they published this beautiful new edition a little less than a year ago. Then Susan Sontag wrote a big thing in The New Yorker about it — how it’s a great American book, and how could we possibly have lost track of this.
The fact that it has resurfaced implies something encouraging about the persistence of great books and the notion that if the book is good enough, sooner or later it rescues itself. I don’t know if that is true, but I would love for it to be true. But hey, even a lovely new edition and a big rave by Susan Sontag in The New Yorker doesn’t make a book a household word. Most books are in need of rescue, including books that are on the shelves at Barnes & Noble right now. Reading The Pilgrim Hawk made me sort of wonder about the books we lose track of. If a book this good can get lost for 60 years, I just wonder what else has gotten lost out there.
— Michael Cunningham, Time Out New York, Holiday Books 2001