By James Calemine
Florida Frenzy culls 13 essays and articles along with 3 short stories into one of the finest collections written by Harry Crews. These stories span from 1969-1982. The Bacon County, Georgia, native stands as one of the South’s finest writers. You can read our interview in my book Insured Beyond The Grave.
The first story in Florida Frenzy is “Teaching and Writing in the University” where Crews explains how teaching at The University of Florida allowed his writing to breathe. His writing is like a punch in the throat. He describes how teaching helps his own craft: “Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what is worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective novels, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they are doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart with a living memory.”
In “Why I Live Where I Live” Crews describes reasons for making his home in Gainesville, Florida. “Living here in North Florida, I am a little more than a hundred miles from where I was born and raised to manhood. I am just far enough away from the only place that was ever mine to still see it, close enough to the only people to whom I was ever kin in ways deeper than blood to still hear them.”
“The Car” begins with Crews describing the first automobile he owned, a 1938 Ford coupe. “Tip on a Live Jockey” exists as a love story with gambling on horse racing. “The Hawk Is Flying” tells the tale of an injured hawk that is nursed back to health, and how sad it was to let it fly away: “For a long time I heard her high trailing cry above me. But I never looked up. I felt bad enough as it was.”
“The Unfeminine Mystique” recounts the writer’s encounters with the opposite sex. “Cockfighting An Unfashionable View” provides one of the most gritty, insightful and authentic perspectives on fighting roosters. “A Day at the Dogfights” also emerges as writing that is not for the weak of heart.
“Tuesday Night with Cody, Jimbo and a Fish of Some Proportion” stands as a humorous story about some good old boys having some midnight fun. In “Poaching Gators”, Crews provides this perspective: “Being raised alongside the Okefenokee Swamp, I had early on developed a healthy respect for gators. When I was a boy I saw Willard Stucky and Leonard Miller–both of them in their early twenties and about half drunk at the time–go in a little pond with the intention of catching a gator that wasn’t even five feet long. God knows why they wanted to take him alive, but they did, so they backed their truck right up to the bank and went in the water. They finally did get him alive in the bed of the pickup, but not before he beat the clothes off both of them with his tail and he chewed one of Willard’s hands until it was crooked forever…”
“Comeuppance at the Gatornationals” is a gasoline-laced story about drag racing. “The Goat Day Olympics” includes essential facts to cook a goat over glowing coals. Three fiction stories at the end of Florida Frenzy–“Naked in Garden Hills”, The Hawk Is Dying Chapter 4″ and “The Enthusiast” all contain the hard-boiled perspectives of a serious survivor. Florida Frenzy drives you straight into the hot and festering Swamp…