I love to browse my local used bookstore of a Friday afternoon. This afternoon I came across a copy of my favorite Harry Crews novel, A Feast of Snakes. It’s a 1978 massmarket edition from Ballantine. The lurid cover captures the novel’s lurid spirit. It wraps around; here’s the back (I’d scan the whole thing flat but I don’t think the book’s spine would survive):
The art seems to be signed with the (last I’m guessing?) name “Gentile.” If anyone can confirm I’d appreciate it.
I shared the cover on Twitter, where one user pointed out that the publishers seemed to be “pre-emptively casting the film,” with Ed Asner in a supporting role. I’m guessing they would’ve wanted Burt Reynolds for Joe Lon.
The cover captures the sweaty abjection of A Feast of Snakes—it’s a nasty, gnarly novel that pushes the so-called “Southern Grotesque” style into new, gross, territory. If you haven’t read Crews, it’s a perfect starting point (although I’m sure that the novel is like, problematic or whatever in many, many ways). I love the cover, as I’ve said–it fits the novel wonderfully, unlike the more “respectable” cover for my 1998 edition (which I’ll be trading in now):
From the novel: not quite a recipe for snakes:
When they got to his purple double-wide, Joe Lon skinned snakes in a frenzy. He picked up the snakes by the tails as he dipped them out of the metal drums and swung them around and around his head and then popped them like a cowwhip, which caused their heads to explode. Then he nailed them up on a board in the pen and skinned them out with a pair of wire pliers. Elfie was standing in the door of the trailer behind them with a baby on her hip. Full of beer and fascinated with what Joe Lon could feel—or thought he could—the weight of her gaze on his back while he popped and skinned the snakes. He finally turned and looked at her, pulling his lips back from his teeth in a smile that only shamed him.
He called across the yard to her. “Thought we’d cook up some snake and stuff, darlin, have ourselves a feast.”
Her face brightened in the door and she said: “Course we can, Joe Lon, honey.”
Elfie brought him a pan and Joe Lon cut the snakes into half-inch steaks. Duffy turned to Elfie and said: “My name is Duffy Deeter and this is something fine. Want to tell me how you cook up snakes?”
Elfie smiled, trying not to show her teeth. “It’s lots of ways. Way I do mostly is I soak’m in vinegar about ten minutes, drain’m off good, and sprinkle me a little Looseanner redhot on’m, roll’m in flour, and fry’m is the way I mostly do.”
3 thoughts on “A lurid paperback copy of Harry Crews’s lurid novel A Feast of Snakes (Lurid book acquired, 14 May 2021)”
I so love finding 1st editions at the local bookstore of books I really love. Great Find!
I just picked up this edition at a thrift shop. I’ve never before found a trade paperback of Crews in the wild, EVER. My excitement was increased when I noticed a likeness of the great Asner on the cover. Search terms brought me to your page. Glad someone else got the same joy I did by finding the book. Now if I only wasn’t so afraid the fragile thing will turn to powder if I dare READ it.
Ah cool! Yeah, it’s such a weird cool cover. A silly little highlight for me was posting a picture of it on Twitter and eventually someone @’d Ed Asner’s account and Asner (or whoever ran the account) retweeted it with some remark about the resemblance.