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A Feast of Snakes
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Group Reads: Pre-1980 > Final Impressions, A Feast of Snakes, December, 2015

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message 1: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
So, you finished it. Or did you? What did you think? Liked it? Hated it? Or, you're definitely going to the first rattle snake rodeo for your next vacation?

If you write a review, please post it here. We want to know how this one struck you. Pardon...couldn't resist.


Jason (desiderio) | 38 comments I finished FoS. I'm glad I read it and actually ended up liking it but I think I expected more from it. It was more 3.5 star type book. It was relentlessly grotesque and well, revolting, with no characters to really like. I felt a sympathy towards Lottie Mae and Beeder but that's about it. But unlikeable characters and relentlessly dark don't scare me off. Great writing overcomes that and still pulls you in. Crews does this (and his twisted humor helps) but it still ended up uneven and lacking in some way. Flannery O'Connor is a major touchstone for Crews but whereas O'Connor's grotesqueries transcend and becoming realistic, Crews' characters, at least in this novel, sometims verge into a cartoon-like atmosphere that is not fully realized. I have read parts of his biography though and the writing is so much more mature and reads like fiction.

Feasts of Snakes is the first complete Harry Crews that I've read and it does make me want to seek out more!


message 3: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
This is my second read of Crews' A Feast of Snakes. I definitely understand how some dropped out of the read. This one is one is a definitely as tough as Grit Lit gets. Here is my review. Sullivan's Review of A Feast of Snakes


Jonathan | 30 comments I've now read Part One and I'm enjoying (maybe not the correct word) it. It's a re-read for me as well as I read it many years ago - possibly twice before, I can't quite remember. I've also read quite a few other books by Crews and found them all interesting to read. AFOS was my first though.

I can see why some may have dropped out as the characters are all pretty nasty but I think Crews does a brilliant job of not turning them into monsters. They're all in a rough environment and it's one that I've never experienced first hand, but through the novel we can experience people living under conditions quite alien to us. I always ask myself when I read such things: 'how would I act if I'd been brought up in a similar environment?' I dread to think of what the honest answer might be. However, I do wonder whether there still were (or still are) places like this as it seems more like the 1920s/30s not the 1970s.

I keep thinking of Erskine Caldwell's stories and novels as I'm reading AFOS. Did anyone else?

I'll look forward to reading your review when I've finished, Mike.


Jonathan | 30 comments Did the initial set up with Joe Lon's disatisfaction with his life and marriage remind anyone else of Updike's Rabbit, Run? I wonder if Crews was consciously referring to that novel?


message 6: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - added it

Diane Barnes | 3815 comments Mod
Jonathan, I can tell you that places and people like that DO still exist, in pockets of the South, and probably all the rest of the country as well. When I lived in Brunswick County, NC, we lived on the beach, but just a few miles inland there were communities and people just like this. Not snake handlers, but stupid and cruel people. My daughter went to school with a lot of them. I grew up in Durham in the 50's and early 60's, and they were there as well, in certain areas of town where you didn't dare go. That may be why I had to give up on this one, too real for me.


Jonathan | 30 comments That's interesting Diane. I wasn't sure if it was Crews transplanting a scenario from his youth to a contemporary setting or not. I can well imagine that there are areas like this though. I find these 'restricted' settings in novels very illuminating. Whether it's in a boarding house, a deserted island or an isolated community, a novel can use the situation to dig deep into the human condition.


message 8: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - added it

Diane Barnes | 3815 comments Mod
I agree, better to read about it than live it.


Gram | 7 comments Jonathan wrote: "I always ask myself when I read such things: 'how would I act if I'd been brought up in a similar environment?' I dread to think of what the honest answer might be. However, I do wonder whether there still were (or still are) places like this as it seems more like the 1920s/30s not the 1970s...."

I read this a couple of months ago and I think it's one of the best books I've read all year. The graphic nature I thought was necessary to the story and honestly the news disturbs me much more than any fiction ever has. I didn't think so much about how I might act if I were in that environment as I did 'how the heck would I get out of it?' Every person in that book - even the worst of the worst - were trapped in one way or another. How could any of them ever get out of that life and move on? I mean really how could you? Maybe Joe Lon didn't snap at the end. Maybe he just sort of escaped.


Jonathan | 30 comments I finished my re-read of this the other day and I'm glad to say that I thought it was just as great as when I first read it.

I was struck by how quickly events escalated at the end, pivotting around his gruesome epiphany just a few paragraphs from the end.
A rush of energy shocked through Joe Lon. He stiffened on the seat. All morning he had felt as though he was going to do it today. But he had not known what it was. Now, watching Victor stagger across the crest of the ridge, Joe Lon knew what it was he had planned to do all along, the thing that had lain rank and fascinating in his brain since last night at the pit. He'd waited for the moment to come, the right one, knowing he'd recognize it when it did.
From what I remember, none of his other books are quite as visceral as A Feast of Snakes.


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Y'all, maybe because I knew ahead of time that this would be extremely gritty, I opened the book with that detachment one sometimes needs to keep the dark stuff from seeping into your pores. If you're gonna use Tilex to scrub the shower, rubber gloves are a good way to start, right?

That said, I absolutely loved this freak train!

On pages 96 and 97, Crews does a nice little thing with "fighting."
"Big Joe wondered, as he had more than once when dogs were about to stand to one another, what might be going on in their heads. Could dogs think? What were they thinking? Probably nothing. They weren't men; they didn't think; they fought."

Not three paragraphs later, we read on page 97...
"They had fought each other to an absolute draw on the bench, but they knew that one of them would have lost if Duffy Deeter had not run out of weights."

This book repeatedly surprised me with the craziness - albeit entirely apropos of the book's plot line - and it was difficult not to read this in one fell swoop. Lottie Mae, Tuffy, Big Joe, and even Poncy pulled off actions I never saw coming, but Joe Lon's choice of endings was epic. Had he killed his father or his sister and then himself, we may have seen that sort of violence coming. In hindsight, the book closed in perfection.


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Loved the dark humor, too... from Page 85....

Joe Lon and Willard slipped out of their shirts. Willard flipped over and walked around in the dirt on his hands. Joe Lon took the bottle of whiskey out of his back pocket, set it carefully on the step of the Winnebago, checking out Susan Gender's red pants again as he did. Then he went into a steady handstand and did six dips, his nose just short of the dirt each time he went down. They both came off their hands and looked at Duffy.

"I'm impressed," said Duffy, shortly. "What the hell are you, gymnasts?"

"Drunks," said Joe Lon picking up the bottle.


Jonathan | 30 comments Good quotes LeAnne.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons between Joe Lon & Tuffy. Both are put through a brutal training regime only to be discarded when no longer useful.


message 14: by Jonathan (last edited Dec 21, 2015 01:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jonathan | 30 comments I found it interesting that Crews makes no attempt to make us sympathise with the characters. Maybe Lottie Mae is the only one, though Crews does his best to remove any sympathy we may have for her. I found Poncey a great character; I think we've all known people like him - a born victim who is attracted to his persecutors in some way.


message 15: by LeAnne: (last edited Dec 21, 2015 07:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Jonathan wrote: "Good quotes LeAnne.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons between Joe Lon & Tuffy. Both are put through a brutal training regime only to be discarded when no longer useful."


Oh, you are so right on the Tuffy/Joe Lon similarities. When Tuff was on the treadmill with that heavy weight on his jaw and his knees scraped up, Joe Lon was worried about him. I think he knew what awful things his father was capable of.

Big Joe was drawn exceptionally well by Crews, I think. When he'd speak somewhat sweetly to the dogs and when he initially jumped the barrier into the dog pit, you'd get a glimmer of hope that he'd show a spot of tenderness. Nuh uh. Vicious to the bone.

As for Beeder (female dogs are used as Breeders - wonder who named the crazy daughter?), I could see that turning up the TV would block the sound of the dogs on her father's treadmill and block out reality. But do you think finding her mother with the bag on her head and the suicide note on her is what really drove her mad? You have to wonder what kind of abuse Big Joe foisted on both his children. Joe Lon did beat Elfie, but isn't that usually something that happens when a child has seen his father due the same to his mother?


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Jonathan wrote: "I finished my re-read of this the other day and I'm glad to say that I thought it was just as great as when I first read it.

I was struck by how quickly events escalated at the end, pivotting arou..."


That ending was excellent. Let me ask you about the triggers that initially set Joe Lon to howling and fainting and then to this fateful end.

Victor, the old fundamentalist preacher with the snakes, was initially speaking Faulkneresque stream of conciousness phrases that included various animals and then serpents. Later, he had barely said a word, but had stripped down and hoisted those rattlers. Do you think Joe Lon was thinking about heaven and escape? Why did that religious babbling set him off?


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Jonathan wrote: "I found it interesting that Crews makesno attempt to make ud sympathise with the characters. Maybe Lottie Mae is the only one, though Crews does his best to remove any sympathy we may have for her...."

Poncey also reminded me of Elfie. Initially, I hated Joe Lon for how he treated her - as he hated himself for how he treated her - but hearing "Joe Lon, honey...." a thousand times a day, no matter how awful he was, was sickeningly obsequious. This dark aspect of Crews' writing is what made me think of Russian literature, like Death and the Penguin.

The bleak humor and irony when the sheriff actually made it to Dr. Sweet's house alive and then the doctor fainting (after counseling Shep on perhaps going into medicine) was outstanding. Maybe I'm just twisted, but I laughed when the doc hit the floor.


message 18: by Jonathan (last edited Dec 21, 2015 01:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jonathan | 30 comments LeAnne wrote: Big Joe was drawn exceptionally well by Crews, I think. When he'd speak somewhat sweetly to the dogs and when he initially jumped the barrier into the dog pit, you'd get a glimmer of hope that he'd show a spot of tenderness. Nuh uh. Vicious to the bone.

Anyone expecting a last minute show of compassion from Big Joe would have been sorely disappointed. It was quite shocking to read this part but I guess from Big Joe's point of view Tuffy was trained to be a sort of canine gladiator and to show any sort of weakness was the ultimate disappointment. Aren't they supposed to die in battle?

I found it interesting that when Big Joe was first introduced to the reader it was by mentioning that he would have disapproved of Joe Lon beating Elfie, which makes Big Joe seem quite moral in comparison. We then get a list of Big Joe's less-than-moral antics....funny in a very grim way.

BTW I'm sure that early on in the novel it was casually mentioned that Joe Lon had killed a travelling salesman and that everyone knew about this...I can't find it though. Of course, as we find out what happened between his father and mother we can understand Joe Lon's hatred of salesmen.

One of the things I liked about the novel is that every character appears to us violent and immoral and yet each character seems to have their own moral code that they're trying to live towards which has a sort of warped logic. None of the characters are evil or totally reprehensible, just fucked up.


Jonathan | 30 comments Oh, here's the quote from page 6 about the travelling salesman:
He [Joe Lon] had the name of being the most courteous boy in all of Lebeau County, although it was commonly known that he had done several pretty bad things, one of which was taking a traveling salesman out to July Creek and drowning him while nearly the entire first string watched from high up on the bank where they were sipping beer.



Jonathan | 30 comments LeAnne wrote: "The bleak humor and irony when the sheriff actually made it to Dr. Sweet's house alive and then the doctor fainting (after counseling Shep on perhaps going into medicine) was outstanding. Maybe I'm just twisted, but I laughed when the doc hit the floor. ."

I agree, that that scene was pretty funny. But I find it amazing, given the amount of violence going on, that the doctor has not seen anything worse than a split tongue. I guess his patients are the well-to-do of Mystic.


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Oh my gosh! Jonathan, I entirely forgot about him drowning the salesman! What a crazy book. And yes - except maybe for sociopathic Big Joe, each of the awful characters had some humanity in them. Ive got to read some more from this guy.


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Oh, and what do you think it was about Victor the snake-handling preacher that set Joe Lon off in the pit and then at the end?


message 23: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - added it

Diane Barnes | 3815 comments Mod
Any guilt I felt for putting this book aside has been alleviated by this discussion.


message 24: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 190 comments Diane wrote: "Any guilt I felt for putting this book aside has been alleviated by this discussion."

Diane, I have been following the discussions also and I will have to agree with you! I have only read one of Crews' books (The Gospel Singer). It was very interesting and I would recommend it but I have been very hesitant about reading any of his other books.


Jonathan | 30 comments I wasn't sure if there was anything specific about Victor's appearance. Maybe his preaching heightened Joe Lon's sense that they were nearing the apocalypse, but other than that nothing specific.

Do you have any theories on it, LeAnne?


Jonathan | 30 comments If my memory is correct I think Crews's 'The Gospel Singer' & 'The Gypsy's Curse' are most similar to AFOS, but I think AFOS is his most violent book. I keep meaning to read some of those I haven't read and to re-read some of those I have read.

Of course, 'A Childhood' is a great book which was a group read earlier in the year.


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Diane wrote: "Any guilt I felt for putting this book aside has been alleviated by this discussion."

Oh, but Diane! One of the oddball side characters (and who would not be an oddball coming to one of these round-ups?) arrived WITH 500 snakes in his camper. In the melee of too many attendees, too little water, too few porta-potties, and too much whiskey, several of the little airstreams get tipped over by the crowd. They guy with the snakes ended up having his pet python - maybe 20 feet long? - go missing. A group in the woods, families with their kids, find it and go to hacking it up. They are crazed, manic while the snake guy tries to get help in stopping them. And all I could think of??? "Man, Diane, if they could get that sucker draped over a barbed wire fence, it'd rain for weeks!"

LOL! I been thinkin bout ya, sistah ssssssnake!


message 28: by LeAnne: (last edited Dec 22, 2015 08:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Jonathan wrote: "I wasn't sure if there was anything specific about Victor's appearance. Maybe his preaching heightened Joe Lon's sense that they were nearing the apocalypse, but other than that nothing specific.

..."

Probably, I'd need to go back to the first instance where the preacher crosses Joe Lon's path to get a better feel for what gives him the willies about the guy. I'm not sure but think he says that Victor comes every year so he can replenish his rattlers for his church.

At any rate, my guess at this point is that Joe Lon had been discontent since high school because he kept expecting his life to change somehow, to eventually get better. At some point - I cannot remember which - he comes to peace and clarity because it finally dawns on him that his days will never change. He'll be peddling moonshine, his dad will train and fight dogs, his sister will continue to smear feces in her hair, Elfie will continue to adore him even after he beats her, and Berenice will never ever come back to him to stay.

This may have happened after he fainted, but his slipping into unconsciousness may have been comorbid and not causative. Victor had started to preach just before Joe Lon fainted. Maybe Joe Lon finally started to embrace the idea of giving up - committing suicide as his mother did to escape - and Victor's bizarre exhortation made him think about heaven and the hereafter. Maybe??

For those of you who needed to bail out on this book early, Joe Lon's mother ran off with a salesman back when he and his sister were kids. Big Joe, their father, tracked the pair down and brought her back home. Shortly thereafter, the young sister came home to find the mom in the recliner with a plastic bag tied around her head. Her mother has written a note and pinned it to her dress. It says something like: let's see you bring me back now, motherfucker.

Craziest suicide note EVER!


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments LeAnne wrote: "Loved the dark humor, too... from Page 85....

Joe Lon and Willard slipped out of their shirts. Willard flipped over and walked around in the dirt on his hands. Joe Lon took the bottle of whiskey o..."


You also have to love this. Joe Lon discovers and feels challenged by the fact that his ex has a boyfriend at college who is said to be the star of the University of Georgia's debate team. He wonders exactly how physically hard it is to play debate.


message 30: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - added it

Diane Barnes | 3815 comments Mod
Yes, Leanne, that is a great suicide note!


message 31: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1888 comments Mod
I'm going to be finishing this in January, but should I admit I'm liking this one. It's all nasty business but it is holding my attention.


message 32: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1888 comments Mod
LeAnne wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "I wasn't sure if there was anything specific about Victor's appearance. Maybe his preaching heightened Joe Lon's sense that they were nearing the apocalypse, but other than that no..."

I personally loved the suicide note. Warped, I know!


Dustincecil | 175 comments LeAnne wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "I wasn't sure if there was anything specific about Victor's appearance. Maybe his preaching heightened Joe Lon's sense that they were nearing the apocalypse, but other than that no..."

I'm late to the party. LOVED this .

wasn't it also mentioned that the preacher had been to every single roundup in the past? I thought Joe Lon recognized that he would one day be that old man. having attended every roundup for his whole life and he saw the hopeless in that.

I've had fun comparing the treatment of Joe Lon here, to Carl Bommer in Paris Trout. Two very different versions of a town's "first son".


LeAnne: GeezerMom | 1310 comments Dustin, yes. The preacher came frequently to get snakes for his church. I do think Joe Lon saw no escape and no quarter and no hope for change. What an awesome book.


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