Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Harry Crews is consistent is his creation of surreal worlds wherein people act outside the realm of normalcy. He was born in the rural town of Alma, Georgia, and grew up as the son of agrarian parents; many critics thus seek autobiographical elements in his novels, an approach spurred in part by his work A Childhood: The Biography of a Place (1978). Crews, though, transcends the autobiographical to delve into the human emotion and human violence that characterize the best Southern writing, an approach that puts him in the same context as James Dickey and William Faulkner. Early in his writing, he acquired a cult following that propelled his career and helped to shape his vision and his skill as a master storyteller. A Feast of Snakes, which falls chronologically in the middle of his canon, is often considered his best work; it is often recommended to those interested in sport literature because of the graphic renditions of dogfighting. In this, Crews has become a model for writers in sport literature; he has also created other work in that genre, including The Knockout Artist (1988) on boxing and Body (1990) on women’s competitive bodybuilding.

Crews’s work is often classed as black comedy and, indeed, there are touches of wry, often sardonic, humor in even the most compelling of his novels. The works could easily be included in an upper-division university sport literature or modern novels course but would likely be unacceptable for a younger audience.