(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Set in the rural backwoods of Georgia, A Feast of Snakes is a surreal romp through the dementia of the annual Rattlesnake Roundup, the only event for which the town of Mystic has gained repute. In the same Southern Gothic vein of his predecessors William Faulkner and James Dickey, Harry Crews delivers a vision of a South beset by demons of the past and nightmares of an uncertain future. The reader quickly becomes coiled in the lurid, perversely sexual, and often venomous lives of the local population and realizes that Mystic is no place for the timid or the sane.

The work is divided into two parts, the first of which is a nostalgic attempt to reclaim the past and the second of which deals with the unchanging present and the perpetual future. Narration, which is in the third person, weaves in and out of a variety of perspectives in a dislocated, uneven, but compelling fashion.

The story begins as the town of Mystic prepares for the Rattlesnake Roundup, the only consistent but slippery glue that holds the plot together. Joe Lon Mackey, the former Boss Snake of the Mystic Rattlers, the high school football team, lurks in the shadows watching the baton twirlers and the current team practice for the big game that is a feature of the Roundup. Realizing his days as local hero have passed, Joe Lon wanders away to the liquor store, which he manages for his father, Big Joe, and then home to his trailer, his unappealing wife Elfie, and their two babies. After successfully starting an argument, which is obviously patterned behavior, Joe Lon stomps out of the house and returns to the liquor store, where he engages in his usual daily ritual of drowning his sorrows in his own product. George, a black man who is Joe Lon’s employee, begs Joe Lon to intercede with...

(The entire section is 728 words.)