A Strange Book: Car, by Harry Crews

Car is a strange novel.  I mean “strange” in a way that is neither good nor bad but . . . strange.   It is the story of a man who is so in love with cars that he tries to eat one, a red 1971 Ford Maverick. I had to search hard to find this novel. It’s out of print and the price of existing copies has skyrocketed since Crews died last March.  But after months of searching, I finally found a copy.  And the book is good — real good.  But strange.  Even so, I ate it all in a single bite.

Cars dominate the lives of Crews’ characters outside of Jacksonville, Florida.  Easy runs the largest car-wrecking business in the state, Auto-Town  He lives with his three kids in Salvage house amid forty-three acres of wrecked metal.  Junelle, his daughter, tows the cars from bloody crashes; Mister, his son, crushes them into three-ton suitcases; and Herman, Mister’s twin brother, dreams.  He sets up an attraction, CAR DISPLAY: YOUR HISTORY ON PARADE, that showcases the history of America through the sleek designs and round tires of the cars we drive.  But the excitement and memories stirred up by those early models are too much for Easy and the guests that flock to Auto-Town.  They shut CAR DISPLAY down.  But then Herman comes up with a new idea.  He decides to eat a car from bumper to bumper, six ounces a day.  It’s a beautiful Ford Maverick.  He partners with an enterprising hotel owner to make it happen.

But Herman soon learns that eating a car isn’t easy.  First, there’s the rough edges to contend with — the hotel manager assigns a whore to grease both Herman’s throat and asshole — but there’s also the changes that come with money and fame.  The family moves out of Auto-Town and into the hotel.  Herman gives two performances a day: one in the evening to swallow a piece, another in the morning to pass it.  The hotel owner then molds each piece into a tiny car-shaped key chain that he auctions off to the highest bidder.  And the crowds love it!  But the weight of the car soon wears on Herman and the rest of his family.  By the end of the book you wonder if things aren’t backwards — is Herman’s consuming the car, or is the car really consuming all of them?

The Jacksonville of Car is a Southern Gothic world where the events the pass are only strange to the reader.  Characters gleefully have sex amid the twisted wreckage of accidents (“I love and respect you for this”); cheerleaders give themselves to anybody with the right car; and people clamor to pay $8,233 to own the first bit of bumper to pass through Herman’s ass.  But in the end, maybe this world’s not so bizarre.  God knows I love my first car, an 1993 Chevy Blazer I named Blazey.  She’s was a beaut.  I’d probably pay a lot to have her back, though I’m not sure I’d eat her.  Why would anyone?

“Why would I want . . . to . . . eat . . . a . . . car?” Herman said the words very slowly as though he might be tasting them.  “I can tell you.  The car is where we are in America.”  He paused again and said slowly, “I’m going to eat a car because it’s there.”

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