Home > Book Reviews, Harry Crews > Two short reviews – The Gypsy’s Curse and Car by Harry Crews

Two short reviews – The Gypsy’s Curse and Car by Harry Crews

Part of me was expecting to be disappointed by the two novels collected in Classic Crews along with A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. From what I had read about Harry Crews, it seemed that I might already have read Crews’ best two books in the aformentioned A Childhood and the novel A Feast of Snakes. I am happy to report that no such thing happened. What follows are short reviews that I fear will not do justice to these outstanding novels.

The Gypsy’s Curse introduces us to a very strange cast of characters. The narrator, Marvin Molar, has stumps for legs and walks everywhere on his hands. He’s about three feet tall. He can’t speak or hear. Marvin lives in a gym with an old strongman by the name of Al, who frequently refers to himself in the third person. He once had his head run over by a car (deliberately, to prove how strong he is) and now his ear looks like a cauliflour. Leroy is a boxer who got beaten up so badly that he now stumbles around, ‘punch drunk’ in perpetuity. And Pete is an old black man who is so weak that even Leroy can beat him up easily. This unlikely cast reside in Al’s gym, where strongmen and iron freaks buff their physiques daily. Everything changes when Marvin’s girlfriend Hester moves into the gym, and a cycle of increasing violence is started.

That’s the story of The Gypsy’s Curse in a paragraph, and I can see that I’m not doing much of a job in trying to explain why this book is simply a work of genius. I am going to have to come back to this in a year or so and see if I can’t work out how Crews did it. I’m stumped. This is just a book of amazing worth and everyone should read it. The only thing I’ll say against it is that it ends in predictable violence, just like A Feast of Snakes did. I hope Crews has other ways of ending his books than in mass bloodshed.

I suppose it’s fair to say that I regard Car as a lesser work than the three Harry Crews books I had read before it, which isn’t to say that it’s a book without worth. It certainly is, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to J. G. Ballard’s Crash, which I believe came out at a very similar time. Okay, I just checked. Crews’ novel actually preceded Ballard’s by a year, but where Crash is fairly famous and has had a film made from it, Car is just about out of print (except in this Classic Crews collection) and forgotten. Why is this? The books are quite similar in terms of their theme – that cars equals sex equals violence. I suppose the Ballard novel is more detailed, and less humorous.

In Car, Easy Mack presides over 43 acres of scrapped cars in Jacksonville, Florida. At book’s opening, we see Easy’s son Mister crushing Cadillacs. It turns out that Mister has a twin brother Herman who has run away for some reason. Then it transpires that he has become affiliated with a hotel owner named Homer Edge, and that Herman is planning on eating a brand new Cadillac, bumper to bumper. He tries… and fails. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but then this isn’t much of a book, in terms of pages anyway. At a little over 100 pages, Car is more novella than novel, and in fact it may have worked better at a still shorter length. Despite these caveats, this is a little gem of a book with some powerful scenes and imagery. To conclude this review, I’m quoting a paragraph in which Herman realises that by eating the car, he is becoming the car:

“If he needed more air he’d turn on the air-conditioner. If he needed more strength, he’d burn a higher octane gasoline. If he needed more confidence, he’d get another hundred horses under the hood. If the light of the world bothered him, he’d tint his windshield. And his immortality lay in numberless junkyards, all easily accessible from anywhere in America. Go on down and replace his fender, replace his wheel, replace his engine even, replace everything until he was not even what he was when he started. Replace everything with all things until he was nobody because he was everybody.” (Classic Crews, p382)

I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the three books (two novels, one memoir) comprising Classic Crews are among the greatest examples of narrative I’ve ever read. If I wasn’t already jaded and cynical at my grand old age of twenty-eight about the state of the world and the prestige afforded its greatest proponents of narrative fiction, I’d wonder why Harry Crews isn’t substantially more recognised than he is. Then I think of Marvin Molar and I know why.

Harry Crews is a first rate writer; you should order this book immediately.

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