Kata's Reviews > A Feast of Snakes

A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews
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May 18, 2012

really liked it
Read in May, 2012

Sometimes how you come to read a book is intriguing. Perhaps you browse the shelf after shelf, book jacket after book jacket at a book shop. Maybe you read vast literary reviews or reviews by your contemporaries who have similar book tastes. On rare occasions, I find a book just happens to fall into my possession out of thin air I cannot for the life of me recall how I came to own it. But the very best way to acquire a book, I believe, is when an acquaintance who truly knows your literary taste says to you, "You must read this." This is how I came to read "A Feast of Snakes." My boyfriend, John who knows my literary palate and bookshelves (sometimes better than me) recommended this book. We were on a shopping spree in one of thee best second-hand book stores in all of Florida when he handed me this book. He explained that Harry Crews was a well known Floridian author and then sealed the deal by saying, "You will enjoy this."

John was right. Crews immerses the reader into the deep south of Mystic, Georgia where the local dialect is much different than what I am accustomed to. If I can muster a complaint about this book it is that I had to take my time wrapping my Yankee brain and tongue around sentences like, "Hit tetched me all the living while." But that is just a small hurdle for this Yankee reader because what pulled me in nose first into this book was the raw rough edges of the characters' lives. Okay, I'll be honest there was one other part of the book where I shook my little Yankee head. Okay, I'll tell you and you can judge me viciously! Two adult females had a baton twirling contest outside and I had a hard time imagining baton twirling in my backyard.

The main character, Joe Lon Mackey was the epitome of an alpha-male when he was in high school and during the first few opening pages you feel how far down he has fallen. You are pulled with him into the gravitational disgust of his dismal life: an unhappy marriage, unwanted children, a drunken father who abuses dogs, a psychologically disturbed sister and his lethargic job running the local tavern. A man who once felt on top of the world has fallen into the gloom of reality in Mystic. I don't want to mislead you, this is not a book which revolves around one person. There is a small cast of characters which Crews does a great job weaving into dark places as well, some characters into darker places than Joe Lon even experiences.

Crews pivots each character around Mystic's annual snake festival. Imagine a small town filled with an influx of people, snakes and drunken festivities. A town already filled with darkness and then amplifying it to its greatest extent. This composite of tourists and the snake festival itself are more than enough to make the book severe but it is the local residents which draw Crews to write with a undeniable rough edge comparable to that of Cormac McCarthy.

The darkness in Mystic becomes a common thing and the characters think nothing of the gloom in their lives or in the lives of others. It is a gloom they accept and attempt to forget. In one sentence, a man (Lummy) over hears Joe Lon screaming at his father over the telephone. Crews writes elegantly "But Lummy might as well have been hearing a woodpecker in a tree or rain on a tin roof. It was the natural sound of the world, too much like everything else, and he wouldn't remember it."

I may not have the rural southern dialect mastered, but I clearly understood the battle against darkness, gloom and utter despair which unraveled in this book. More than that, I love reading a book that is dark and elegant all at once. But most importantly it was recommended to me by someone who knew I would enjoy the darkness, the elegant sentences and then contemplate the sociological composition of the book.

Not only does a reader enjoy a book, they cherish how they acquired the book.
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