Sunday, September 26, 2010

Car by Harry Crews

All the stories I've heard of Harry Crews suggest as a teacher he is brutally opinionated (which I consider slightly different than brutally honest), and he supposedly tells his undergrads if you get an A in this class you should keep writing, if you don't, you shouldn't. But this is all hearsay, so I take it with a grain of salt, and you should too. (He also has many former students who are devoted to him either despite or because of these things). But, all in all, the things I'd heard didn't exactly cause me to run out and read his work. But then I watched (via eleven five minute installments on YouTube) the Emmy-winning tv documentary "The Rough South of Harry Crews" and I found Crews to be more sympathetic and more compelling than I had imagined. So I finally got around to reading something.

And I found this novella (the publisher calls it novel but it runs about a hundred pages, so I suspect that's just a marketing decision) completely charming, and sweet, and extremely intelligent, and funny, to boot. It's about a guy who decides to eat a car and it stays centered on that plot--will he, can he, etc. But, as the title suggests, the thematic center of the novella is all things car. And all things car turns out to be a great metaphor for all things human. Everything that can happen in a car happens here (one of the funniest dialogue scenes I've read since White Noise's is-it-raining-or-isn't-it scene is between two characters who are having sex in the back of the car to be eaten). But what is most significant is the various ways these characters love cars (and they all do) reflects the various ways one can love. Herman, who dreams of doing something big, and so decides to eat a car, has a pure kind of love. He just wants to feel a part of the bigness of the world. His brother Mister loves money and so loves how cars can bring him money. His father, on the other hand, loves cars for what they are, machines he can understand. His sister loves cars for the excitement--the life--they represent. All in all, it's a short book with a big feel precisely because it takes on one subject in depth. The choice of subject matters, of course; cars are omnipresent in American life and therefore contain multitudes, but it seems to me so could butterflies or corn or ... you name it. Now if it weren't for the humor and the charm and the seriousness of the characters, the thematic center would not have held...but the two in combination (characters and theme) made for a really rich read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the best books I have ever read. I know the setting of the novella personally, and it is accurate, and it captures the cultural moment in time exactly.