Tom's Reviews > A Feast of Snakes

A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews
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May 13, 10


If you think Jim Harrison spikes his ink with testosterone, you ain't seen nothing until you've read Harry Crews. He makes Harrison read like a society page columnist in comparison. Actually a better comparison might be Albert Camus. Seriously. I think if Camus had been born in Mystic, Georgia, he might've written this book instead of The Stranger.
A similar existential abyss sits at the center of Crews's novel, an abyss as mean and violent and frightening as the snake pits and dog-fight pits covering the landscape.

Just as it's almost impossible to embrace Meursault, it's impossible to like Joe Lon, a raging, wife-beating-cheating drunk. But such is Crews' talent that you come to understand, even sympathize, with Joe Lon (understanding and sympathy occupying rooms at opposite ends of the house from liking, of course). Mind you, Crews crosses the line (wherever you place it, he crosses it) in a defiant fashion that almost dares you to toss the book out the window. The quality of Crews' prose was the only thing that kept me hurdling the first few lines -- hell, ditches, trenches, moats, swollen rivers -- he crossed. The man can write. And tell a story. There's something deeper going on here than simple, mindless redneck preening and rage. And while the ending is way over the top -- think of Grand Canyon-wide line -- it is also has a surprising element of ambiguity and subtlety, a final image that is both disquieting and generous. In fact, if you were to pitch Crews as Southern Gothic writer, in his own strange way, I find him more subtle than Flannery O'Connor, who I find increasingly mechanical, even a touch didactic, upon rereading.

Whether you love or hate this book, by the end you will probably feel like, in the words of Coach Tump, a "tainted sumbitch."

And that ain't necessarily a bad thing.

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