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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How I Became an Addict
This was the first novel by Harry Crews that I ever read. It may as well have been heroin because to this day I will read anything and everything he publishes. Crews writes almost tenderly about brutal, ugly people in a wasteland of frustrated desires. He grabs you by the back of the neck and holds your head down close enough to see the gorgeous, swirling iridescence...
Published on January 17, 2000 by Eleventhour

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Southern Culture on the Skids
Think all Southerners are genteel, hospitable churchgoers? Think again.
Gone with the Wind this ain't. Crews exaggerates for effect, but speaking as a Southerner myself, I've met few people as vile as these characters. Animal cruelty, rape, suicide, murder, torture, insanity, battered women, drug abuse, kinky sex and illiteracy, not to mention a stream of body...
Published on December 1, 2008 by Bibliofiend


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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How I Became an Addict, January 17, 2000
By 
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
This was the first novel by Harry Crews that I ever read. It may as well have been heroin because to this day I will read anything and everything he publishes. Crews writes almost tenderly about brutal, ugly people in a wasteland of frustrated desires. He grabs you by the back of the neck and holds your head down close enough to see the gorgeous, swirling iridescence of a fly's wing as it feasts on rotted meat. He propels you through the most chilling land of horrors you will ever see and yet, somehow leaves you feeling uplifted. Crews will baptize you in a lake of raw sewage laughing gleefully all the while as you struggle to understand why you feel redeemed.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars R.I.P. Harry Crews: The curtain came down..., March 30, 2012
By 
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
Author Harry Crews is no longer among us. He passed away at 76 in Gainesville, FL, on March 28, 2012, having suffered from neuropathy for quite some time. This reader studied under him while in college during the '70s; as a fellow former Marine, he was not just a teacher, but was also a mentor and an acquaintance who became somewhat of a friend. He lived in Gainesville for over forty years, and said that he intended to keep writing "until the curtain comes down."

His 1976 masterpiece, A Feast of Snakes, was a good example of how first hand experiences in life can become the basis of a memorable yet sometimes disturbing novel. This tale concerns a town's obsessive annual ritual, a rural rattlesnake rodeo. Welcome to Mystic, Georgia, the home of one Joe Lon Mackey, a truly terrifying protagonist. Joe Lon spends his free time running the illegal alcohol business that he inherited from his father, a pit-bull breeder whose brutality to animals is esteemed by the locals.

His sister is a disturbed individual with some repulsive habits who watches television all day. His best friend is the local sheriff, a bitter man who lost his leg in Vietnam, one who locks up and rapes the young, black girls who reject his advances. Joe Lon castigates himself for abusing his wife, the woman who cares for his two youngest children. He wallows in a mixture of past grandeur and present disappointments with the knowledge that his high school football injuries had cost him any kind of real future.

Against this backdrop is the annual rattlesnake roundup, one that that brings alcohol-fueled crazies from all over the Bible Belt to this small rural Georgia town to pursue, slaughter, and eat just about any snakes they can find. Add to this mixture a bikini beauty contest and a pep rally on the night before the hunt, and you have the picture.

Joe Lon Mackey is about as inexcusable and reprehensible a character as one can find in contemporary literature. But it's the way that the author Crews put it all together into those words that made many feel that this book was his finest work, as it opens with this passage:

"She felt the snake between her breasts, felt him there, and loved him there, coiled, the deep tumescent S held rigid, ready to strike. She loved the way the snake looked sewn onto her V-neck letter sweater, his hard diamondback pattern shining in the sun. It was unseasonably hot, almost sixty degrees, for early November in Mystic, Georgia, and she could smell the light musk of her own sweat. She liked the sweat, liked the way it felt, slick as oil, in all the joints of her body, her bones, in the firm sliding muscles, tensed and locked now, ready to spring -- to strike -- when the band behind her fired up the school song: 'Fight On Deadly Rattlers of Old Mystic High.'"

Some have called this a tale of redemption, but I'll leave that up to the reader to explore. And the potential reader should be aware that this is a dark novel that is filled with viciousness, brutality, intolerant behavior, animal cruelty, murder, and other inexcusable behavior. It's not an easy read for some, but Harry Crews does have a way of using his words to waken us, to move us, and see how the crafting of words can make us more aware of those certain darknesses that are in our world, perhaps even as much today as they were when he penned the words.

Crews wrote 17 novels in his lifetime, along with numerous short stories, magazine articles and a memoir. He taught graduate and undergraduate fiction writing workshops at the University of Florida from 1968 until he finally retired in 1997. In the book Getting Naked with Harry Crews: Interviews, he explained to interviewer and editor Hank Nuwer that his military service was crucial. "If I hadn't gone in the Marine Corps, I wouldn't be a professor in the university. I'd be in the state prison because I was a bad actor and a bad boy."

I picked up my second copy of this work in NYC's Strand Bookstore in a bargain section awhile back, surprised to find it yet unwilling to just let it sit there, unforgotten. And is this my favorite of this author's works? In terms of literary greatness, I would put it up there with my true favorite of his works, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place.

An excerpt from a forthcoming memoir had been published in the Georgia Review, and there has been talk of rereleasing his books, many of them out of print, in digital editions. Personally I hope to see that. In an interview from the '90s, Harry Crews said about writing: "If you're gonna write, for God in heaven's sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you've been told."

In his lifetime he lived up to that, and did it many times over.

3/30/2012
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You ain't gonna find solace here., June 22, 2010
By 
Rob (Jackson, TN) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
I grew up drinking Busch ponies in trailer parks around Western KY. I know these people. Joe Lon is what happens when the American myth is exposed and the real world hits you in the face. Football hero today, loser tomorrow.

Harry Crews doesn't mess with redemption in this novel, the characters are lost with one exception. This is accurate at the bottom. Very few people "move up." Read this and learn what life is like at the bottom.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderfully grotesque black comedy, December 6, 1999
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
Of all Harry Crew's books, this remains my favorite. On the difficult tightwire that Crews has chosen to walk, this book strikes the perfect balance between the horror and the comedy of life in a universe that doesn't give a damn about the individual's hopes and dreams. At times both laugh out loud funny and saddly horrible, this tale of modern day marginal southern characters is the perfect example of the peculiar universe of Crew's fiction.
Harry Crews has established himself as a kind of southern gothic Hemingway whose bruised, bloody and always, in some ways, crippled protagonists seem more foolish than heroic. Yet these 'freaks' are human and their stories move us. There is a great humanity in Crews books, but always beneath the surface.
A Feast of Snakes is one of those books on the very short stack I keep on hand to reread with pleasure from time to time. If you enjoy black comedy - if the exremes of the human condition strike you as much comic as tragic - then this book might be for you. I love it.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Southern Culture on the Skids, December 1, 2008
By 
Bibliofiend (new orleans, LA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
Think all Southerners are genteel, hospitable churchgoers? Think again.
Gone with the Wind this ain't. Crews exaggerates for effect, but speaking as a Southerner myself, I've met few people as vile as these characters. Animal cruelty, rape, suicide, murder, torture, insanity, battered women, drug abuse, kinky sex and illiteracy, not to mention a stream of body fluids...the filth never ends. The French have a phrase for such decadence: le goute de la boue, or "love of the dirt." It's apt here. Mystic, Georgia is a pigsty.
Crews makes Flannery O'Connor (whom he cites as an influence) look like Little Bo Peep.
Yet Crews does evoke sympathy for his protagonist, the cruel but hapless Joe Lon Mackey (no small feat). And he can be downright hilarious,e.g., when Joe Lon tells girlfriend Berenice: "Studying them goddamn foreign languages is done ruint you mind." Like a snake crushing its prey, Crews's muscular prose squeezes the reader tightly into a squalid world of pain, misery and depravity. Give Caesar his due: three stars.
A Feast of Snakes packs a wallop, and it's not for the faint of heart.
But one wallow in the mud is more than enough.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars feast of snakes, December 27, 1999
By 
nathan wood (FORT MILL, SOUTH CAROLINA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
After reading this book I have decided that Harry Crews is the best author whom i have had the pleasure of reading from. Before I read this book I had only read a piece of harry crews Autobiography. Immedietly after reading Feast of Snakes I went out and bought Mulching of America, another Crews novel. This book was extremely twisted and weird but very entertaining. Quite honestly i felt like I was breaking some kind of rule just reading this book while I was at school. As odd as it was you couldn't help but laugh out loud at the sick actions of the protaganist. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strange charachters doing strange things.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who are the real snakes?, March 30, 2005
By 
trainreader (Montclair, N.J.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
Maybe it's just a matter of taste, but novels by Harry Crews grab me in a way that few others do. "A Feast of Snakes" and "The Knockout Artist" are my two Crews favorites. Crews, of course, is best known for his portrayal of depravity, amorality and sin of all types, but there always seems to be (if one looks hard enough) a moral compass present throughout most of his books. The main character here, Joe Lon Mackey, is certainly no saint, and perhaps despicable in several ways, but he seems to sense the wrongness of the behavior of those around him, especially with reference to the annual rattlesnake round-up for which his otherwise dead-end town is known. Joe seems to want to change, he just does not know how to.

All the typical Crews elements are present in this novel, i.e. quirky and deviant characters, dark humor, and a shocking ending. Crews also makes a powerful statement in general about cruelty towards animals. Overall, a great read from an incredible author!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable, August 15, 2011
This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
This is a horror story: no doubt about it. Crews spares no graphich detail in opening up an 'underworld' of characters and social interactions, leaving us, the readers, reluctant but mesmerised spectators at a freak show. At first I thought thank god my life is so far removed from this miasma of hoplessness, I can comfortably just look on safe in my separateness. And then, towards the end of the novel, this prickly realisation starts to creep up that actually, maybe, I (and many others) are not so removed from Jo Lon after all. Sure, I don't run a liquor store or organise snake and dog fights, but hey: for every time I've 'settled', accepted second best, been charitable and then selfish, hurt someone I loved for no reason, not appreciated what I have in life and been baffled by whats trending around me: well, thats just like Jo Lon, and thats just for starters. Jo Lon is the ugly face of our secret hidden 'me', the one that may never surface for public consumption but still lurks somewhere in the shadows like a bitter pill.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rises to the Mythical, June 9, 2005
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This review is from: A Feast of Snakes: A Novel (Paperback)
Combing components of Faulkner (southern despair and alcoholism) and Dante's Inferno (a demonic obsession with snakes), Crews has taken a common premise and raised it to the mythical. The premise, a twenty-something Joe Lon Mackey is stuck in a trailer home with a woman he loathes and several hungry children while he escapes with recent memories of his glory football days, drinking moonshine, and helping the town with its annual snake festival. Vipers are a prominent image in this novel, which is, among other things, a refutation of unchecked masculinity. The men in this novel thrive on violence and primal expressions of masculinity to fill their void. It is this need to fill the void with a demonic energy that informs the novel's viper metaphor.

The plot is easy to follow enough. We watch Joe Lon Mackey and others go down a descent of debauchery as they seethe with rage and resentment, partly because they sense there is a better life out there and partly because they have no real vision of what that better life could be.

With a parallel to The Great Gatsby, we see Joe Lon Mackey long for his high school sweetheart, Berenice, a stuckup cipher who thinks she's superior to all the locals after she leaves to town to go to an elitist college in the north east. Her world becomes the chimera in the way that Daisey's became a chimera or a mirage to Gatsby.

For all its nihilitic despair and Dantean violence, there is enough humor in this novel to keep it bouyant. It is also a short, terse 175 pages, crammed with themes about the chimera, the lost American Dream, male violence, tribalistic bonding rituals, racism, and the need for some kind of "religion," even a venomous one, in order to fill the abyss.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A graphic account that lives with you., December 30, 1997
By A Customer
I first read a Feast of Snakes soon after it was available in the UK and to this day I have a vivid memory of it. It paints a distrubing picture of a futile existence in a small southern town. A nowhere person in a nowhere town going nowhere. Although I haven't read it for a number of years it has been on my mind as one to re-read and it is about to be republished in the UK and my order is already in. A book that must be recommeded to friends.
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A Feast of Snakes: A Novel
A Feast of Snakes: A Novel by Harry Crews (Paperback - January 7, 1998)
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