A ver si los inútiles buenos para nada de los editores argentinos me publican esto en Argentina que no se inglés y lo quiero leer.
In days where shootings in the workplace and casual violence in shopping malls are commonplace, the seventies look like the good old days. “A Feast of Snakes” by Harry Crews challenges that notion with a novel brimming with angst, loathing, and yes, violence. Crews takes on the myth of the all-powerful white man by showing white men who, due to poverty and geography, are denied access to that power and have few outlets to vent their frustration.
The story takes place in a small town in Georgia called Mystic over the course of a weekend featuring an annual snake hunt, the Rattlesnake Roundup. Joe Lon Mackey organizes the hunt each year, as his father (also named Joe Lon) did before him. In high school, Joe Lon played football, winning titles and leading his team. He was destined for greatness, but thwarted by poor grades from going on to play college football. He remains trapped in his small town, taking over his father’s bootleg liquor store and trapping rattle snakes. At times his dissatisfaction with his life leads him to drive to a secluded area and howl until he is hoarse.
Anger and frustration consume Joe Lon and the other men in this novel. They believe the world owes them and they intend to collect. Every scene in this book displays a need for power. Joe Lon’s father trains pitbulls for fighting and keeps his son on a tight leash. The town sheriff lost his leg in Vietnam and regains his feeling of masculinity by forcing himself upon the disenfranchised African-American women in town. Joe Lon engages in humiliating acts with his former high school girlfriend within shouting distance of his current abused wife, Elfie.
The women in “A Feast of Snakes” serve as plot devices and little else. Joe Lon’s ex-girlfriend, Berenice, illustrates life outside of Mystic. She returns from college for the Roundup with a new boyfriend. A preppy boy who, as Joe Lon says, “plays debate.” Joe Lon married Elfie when Berenice went to college, quickly impregnating her twice. Elfie pales in comparison to Berenice, and Joe Lon views her as another failure. Two other women in the book find solace in madness. The rest are mere trollops. The caricatures can be forgiven, however, as this book unapologetically concerns itself with men. The point of view rarely comes from a female character, and when it does, the woman is insane. Women viewed through the lens of these men can only be one-note.
Other authors have written about men who feel at odds with the world. Crews’ characters stand out by being poor and Southern, with very little agency outside of their small town. They feel powerless despite hearing all their lives that the world belongs t them. This attitude exists today as well. While marketing and media cater to the white male, the poor, uneducated white man feels ignored. Unable to articulate how they feel and unsure how to expend their fury, they turn to violence.
Unlike many modern uses of violence in literature, the underlying rage in the characters of “A Feast of Snakes” is palpable. We see this particularly in Joe Lon. Crews allows access to Joe Lon’s thoughts as he makes decisions. We see his angst over the way he treats his wife and his attempts to curb his abusive behavior. Crews pulls off the difficult feat of making an abusive man a sympathetic character. Joe Lon’s character has been crafted so the reader understands the emotion behind his extreme act of violence at the crescendo.
We also see how violence begets violence. Joe Lon’s dad abused his wife, and now Joe Lon abuses his. The sheriff rapes a woman, threatening her with a rattlesnake, and reaches a grim demise. The men in this book feel entitled because they have always been allowed to do whatever they like, without consequence, until they leave the confines of their provincial Southern town.
When Harry Crews passed away on March 28th, many of his books were out of print and difficult to find. With his passing, his books have re-entered the public consciousness. Crews gave voice to the people he grew up with and knew the best. He allowed people to understand the particular mindset of men who have been told the world belongs to them, only to be rebuffed each time they try to collect. In Crews’ oeuvre, “A Feast of Snakes” stands out as a glimpse into the inner workings of the “ignorant redneck.” As long as the myth of the all powerful white man continues, “A Feast of Snakes” will resonate.
Harry Eugene Crews (7 June 1935 – 28 March 2012) was an American novelist, playwright, short story writer and essayist.
He was born in Bacon County, Georgia in 1935 and served in the Marines during the Korean War. He attended the University of Florida on the GI Bill, but dropped out to travel. Eventually returning to the university, Harry finally graduated and moved his wife, Sally, and son, Patrick Scott, to Jacksonville where he taught Junior High English for a year.
Crews returned to Gainesville and the university to work on his master’s in English Education. It was during this period that he and Sally divorced for the first time. Harry continued his studies, graduated, and – denied entrance into UF’s Creative Writing program – took a teaching position at Broward Community College in the subject of English. It was here in south Florida that Harry convinced Sally to return to him, and they were re-married. A second son, Byron, was born to them in 1963. He returned to University of Florida in 1968 not as a student, but as a member of the faculty in Creative Writing. Crews formerly taught in the creative writing program at the University of Florida. In 1964, Patrick Scott drowned in a neighbor’s pool. This proved to be too heavy a burden on the family, and Harry and Sally were once again divorced.
His first published novel, The Gospel Singer, appeared in 1968. His novels include: A Feast of Snakes, The Hawk is Dying, Body, Scar Lover, The Knockout Artist, Karate Is A Thing of the Spirit, All We Need of Hell, The Mulching of America, Car, and Celebration. He published a memoir in 1978 titled A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. Crews wrote essays for Esquire, Playboy, and Fame. He had a column in Esquire called “Grits” for fourteen months in the 1970s, where he covered such topics as cockfighting and dog fighting. Harry had a tattoo on his right arm which said: “How do you like your blue eyed boy Mr. Death” (from the poem Buffalo Bill’s by e.e. cummings) beneath a skull.
The University of Georgia acquired Harry Crews’s papers in August 2006. The archive includes manuscripts and typescripts of his fiction, correspondence, and notes made by Crews while on assignment.
He died 28 March 2012, from complications of neuropathy.
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