Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Harry Crews' The Hawk is Dying; and his new novella, An American Family

I've been looking forward to the movie adaptation of
The Hawk is Dying, a typically off-kilter novel from Gainesville-based Southern Grit writer Harry Crews, a former UF creative writing prof and one of my favorite writers of contemporary lit.

Better put that in past tense: I had been anticipating the
film, which stars Paul Giamatti and Michelle Williams, until I read the harsh Variety review. David Rooney, who caught the movie at Sundance, called it a "self-conscious exercise in narrative obfuscation."

As a Crews devotee, I'll have to see the movie anyway, if it ever plays in my part of the world; then again, I may have to wait for the DVD. (For the Crews virgin:
A Feast of Snakes and The Knockout Artist are good places to start).

And I just today heard that a new Crews novel - actually, a novella -- has been published by Blood and Guts Press, also home to titles by the likes of Ray Bradbury, Jim Thompson and James Elroy. The below news is courtesy of
A Large and Startling Figure: The Harry Crews Online Bibliography, a valuable resource operated by former Crews student Damon Suave, now editor of literary journal Oyster Boy Review.

Vagabond Books has published Crews's first novel in eight years, An American Family: The Baby With The Curious Markings. The 103-page book is available in three editions: cloth hardcover ($20), 300 signed/bound/numbered copies ($125), and 26 hand-bound/slip-cased/signed special editions. Craig Graham, publisher, also published Crews's last book, Where Does One Go When There's No Place Left to Go? (1998)."

(Vagabond Books, located in California, is home to both Blood and Guts Press and Graham Press).

According to Ted Geltner's
recent feature on Crews in the Gainesville Sun: "An American Family" is an allegorical tale of a family in crisis, complete with Crews staples such as vicious pit bulls, violent retribution and a protagonist upon which humiliation after humiliation is heaped. It runs only 103 pages, and Crews says he conceived it and wrote it last year."

Crews, at 70, is as cantankerous as ever, and not so keen about doing anything to promote the book, according to what he told Geltner: "I don't want to go all over the (expletive) country. Talk to these dull-ass people who have absolutely no idea. They haven't even read a (expletive) book. Man, it's a waste of everybody's time. It's a waste of money, damn sure of that."

He's also as industrious as ever, cranking out 500 words a day toward his next book, according to the Sun story. Crews arrived at the formula courtesy of Graham Greene's advice.

Here's an excerpt from Crews' new book, thanks to the
Gainesville Sun:

"It was Sunday, Major Melton's second wedding anniversary. As soon as he opened his eyes he heard the demented barking of the pit bulldog. Then all the way from the other room he smelled the baby. The baby boy with the strange markings. The dog's barking got louder. Curled beside him under the thin blanket, his wife snored counterpoint to the sound of the dog. he knew the dog was probably as crazy as it was ever going to get by now. Poor bastard. Major was sympathetic. The dog had gone beserk from being tied on a leash that was too short. Major's own problem exactly, which hardly make him or the dog unique. Everybody he knew was going quietly mad from being tied on a leash that was too short."

The Hawk is Dying, filmed in Gainesville in 2004, is playing the
Directors Fortnight lineup during (but not part of) the Cannes Film Festival, which continues through May 28. With any luck, it will get a new lease on life, in terms of securing widespread distribution.

So what does Crews think about the film adaptation? I wonder why Geltner didn't cover that subject in his profile. Or maybe he did bring it up, and Crews opted not to go there.

My Crews story goes something like this: Not long after I began school at UF, in '79, I heard about some weird old professor who showed up to class drunk, with a paper-wrapped flask in one hand, the other hand occasionally making a fist to threaten perceived enemies. At the time, I tut-tutted, to myself, about that situation.

(Too) much later, I figured it out: Crews was that guy, and I blew it by not making a point of signing up for one of his classes. Too late now.

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