Tuesday, August 20, 2013

All We Need of Hell

Harry Crews
Harry Crews’ Karate is a Thing of the Spirit was the literary man’s version of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. All We Need of Hell is another war novel by Crews, who died in 2012. It's no longer in print, but deserves to be reissued. When we say war in relation to Crews we are talking primarily about inner turmoil (though there is occasional sniper fire). Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a another version of this kind of interiorized banter. Duffy Deeter is Crews’s anti-hero and one might suppose alter ego. We meet him fantasizing about Treblinka, Dachau and Auschwitz in order to prolong his orgasms with his coke tooting mistress Marvella Sweat. “Nothing centered a man like pain, “ is one of Duffy’s mantras (he’s a practitioner of Zen) who has a gym in his Winnebago where he also stashes a copy of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. During a particularly violent handball game, he delivers a Okinawan roundhouse reverse to a football star named Tump Walker, an acquaintance of his law partner, Jert McPhester. Jert’s a former University of Florida, All American who suffers from a severe case of coitus interruptus when Duffy finds him in bed with his wife, Tish. Duffy’s son, Felix, is a momma’s boy who favors Baby Ruths. Tish, a former gymnast, files for divorce when Felix hurls after an exhausting workout in which Duffy tries to shape the boy up. Crews pulls no punches. He’s the Ur-intellectual shock jock (not that there really have been any since him) and yet underneath all the fascination with pain and the courting of it, is another kind of pain that his character hardens himself against. And that’s the disappointment in love. “Could you love someone who constantly revolted you,” Duffy muses about his son. It’s a question that could be asked about any of the people Duffy encounters, including himself. In his search for redemption, Duffy Deeter does have something in common with Graham Greene “whiskey priest." Here however is Tump Walker, who turns out to be a great bon vivant and lover of life, on the subject of death: “The thing that pisses me off is that you got to die in the middle of something, you dig? Unfinished. You pick up a fine looking bitch in a bar and you’re on the way to her apartment to get in her pants and you get run over by a truck. That’s annoying. Yeah. Or you order the best steak in the place and while it’s on the way to your table, you pitch forward in  your salad, dead. That’s annoying.” The only annoying thing about this ribald and hilarious novel is that it too must come to an end.

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