The Pequod Review:
Harry Crews (1935-2012) had more raw talent than almost any other writer of his generation. His books have scenes and especially characters that are frequently stunning — dark, visceral and intense. But they are also poorly plotted, with occasionally overwritten or underwritten characters, and the scenes are rarely pulled together into a cohesive novel. He seems to have resisted the efforts of editors to modify his work, and in fact took a measure of pride in his rough style. As he put it in an interview: “I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design.” It’s a shame, since a good editor could have retained his edge but improved his focus, and turned his novels into the masterpieces they deserved to become.
A Feast of Snakes, his eighth novel, is a good case in point. Set during an annual rattlesnake round-up, Crews creates a unique and violent sense of place deep in the American South, with unforgettable characters, sharp dialogue and real despair. But the scenes are disconnected, and the violence becomes gratuitous — and the result is a handful of excellent set pieces rather than a great novel.