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» Levee 67

A Large & Startling Figure

The Harry Crews Online Bibliography

Blood and Grits

Perspective by Lucy Harrison

When I found myself, in 1989, one of twenty or so students in an introductory creative writing class at the University of Florida, I had no idea who Harry Crews was. His name was on my course schedule, but I'd never heard of the man outside of that. I quickly realized, as I listened to the other students whispering before class began, that I was alone in that regard. Everyone else knew who he was. They'd all signed up for his class on purpose; some of them had rearranged their schedules to take this course; some of them had rearranged their lives. Everyone had read at least a few of his books and many seemed to have memorized the entire Crews oeuvre. Frankly, I began to get a little worried. Now, in my defense, I'd only recently moved to Gainesville from a small town in the mountains of Colorado, and I was only a year out of high school, and they don't assign Harry Crews novels as required reading in high schools in small mountain towns in Colorado. Anyway, for whatever reason, I didn't know him. But by the end of that first evening in class, I wanted very much to know him. So I went out and bought a book for $6.95 at the local bookstore—a significant investment in those days when I only made $4 an hour—and that book was Blood and Grits.

It's a funny book. It's also awfully sad. It's about living the best you can with whatever burden you've chosen for yourself. It's about getting rid of that burden and dancing around like a crazy person. It's a book, largely, about drinking. It tells of the toll that drinking takes on your spirit and on your body, and it tells of the immortality given in every bottle. It's about hawks and cars and movie stars. It's a man's book. It isn't a guy's book. But I'm a girl, and I get every word of it. Got it?

When I read Blood and Grits, I want to be Harry Crews. I want to be out there at the head of that waterfall, drunk and stoned and half-crazy and I want to step out over the void and slide down the slick gullet of the river and come up alive on the other side. I want to be drinking a cold beer with Harry and his friends in a bar with bullet holes in the wall, my spine tingling in that way that means that trouble could start at any minute. I want to sit on his back porch after midnight, talking about women and men and what fools they make over each other, and watch the wind riffling the moonlight on Lake Swan and the tall trees crowding blackly around. I want to be running the dogs through the woods a couple of hours before dawn, with the whiskey singing through my veins and the moon sailing behind the clouds and the cries of the dogs chiming like bells across the night sky. I want to get a tattoo in Valdez, Alaska. I want to compare hellish childhoods with Robert Blake. I want to earn the respect of Charles Bronson.

So I'm twelve years older now than I was when I took that first class. I'm still a writer. I hope I'm a better writer, not just an older one. I'm not—monetarily, at least—a much more successful writer. When I read Blood and Grits this time, a passage struck me that I don't recall even reading before. At the very end of the book, Crews writes: "When I awoke, I knew that this day was to be worse than the day that preceded it and that I could not hope to get down from where I was until I was safely home with my books and my typewriter and all the crippled and ruined manuscripts lying about on the desk. I wanted to get back to the place where I had resisted so many things, and failed at so many things, back to the place where even when I succeeded I failed because it was never good enough." God knows we've all failed at so many things. Crews shows us—this book shows us—that none of that means a goddamn thing. Success is never good enough. Winning never measures up. The hangover's just as real and important as the drunk was the night before. It's the failing that makes us who we are.

Perhaps this all made too much of an impression on me when I was nineteen. I do know that I've got scars I might not have if I'd never been introduced to the writing of Harry Crews. I know the people in these stories. I know where to find them if I want them. I know how to get myself into that kind of trouble. But there are very few people who have lived the kind of life that Crews has and are still around to talk about it. I don't particularly want to live that kind of life, not even now when I'm still under the influence of his writing, not when I sit down and really think it through. Except—one day I'll pick up Blood and Grits off my bookshelf again. I'll open it, and I'll read these familiar tales. I'll read about the wild woods and the whiskey-madness and the moonlight on the lake, and my heart will beat a little faster and, yes, I will want it. I will want it all over again.

. . .

A Large & Startling Figure: The Harry Crews Online Bibliography
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