Naked In Garden Hills (1969)
Crews’ second novel. My plan was to read his entire body of work (as many as I could get my hands on, at least. Other than the essays (a middle work), I’ve read several novels up to 1976. There are another 30 years worth of output that I have not touched. And I think I’m cutting this voyage short. As I’ve found out, many of Crews’ novels are short by most standards hovering around and below the 200-page mark. I’m beginning to wonder if this is on purpose. Is it possible that even Crews can’t spend more time with his creations than that?
Fat Man is “five feet tall and…five hundred and seventy-eight pounds” and is addicted to Metrecal. Cases and cases of the stuff. Fat Man lives on “the hill” – a familiar motif in Crews’ work. His father had sold land to a Phosphate mine developer (Jack O’Boylan) and become rich. Garden Hills is a typical company town. Think Detroit to the max. Later, the plant shuts down and everything reverted to Fat Man’s father. The common fantasy is that Jack O’Boylan will come back and get the town back on its feet. Redemption. O’Boylan is like God. He may or may not exist – depending on your beliefs. In the meantime, the legacy passes to Fat Man after his father goes mad and disappears.
“…he was mad. He sometimes went down naked into Garden Hills. About once a month he tried to throw himself into the Phosphate grinders and make himself into phosphate. Eventually he did. They never found him. Nobody ever said it, but it was assumed he was sold in a bag.. And if he was, it was justice. It was his fondest dream come true. It was retribution.”
John Henry Williams (Jester, a former jockey) is Fat Man’s lawn jockey, valet/chauffeur/lackey. His girlfriend, Nestraldidi (Lucy) is a cooch girl in the carny. In fact, Jester is also in the carny, as a dunk tank jockey, sitting on a wooden horse. Jester is another of Crews’ flawed/damaged characters. Jester had been a promising jockey who had been injured and lost his horse on his very first ride. Through no fault of his own, and he could never again conquer the fear.
Dolly is a town girl with big dreams and Crews’ familiar bit tits – another beauty queen with dreams of escape. And the familiar misogyny:
“She saw it in men’s eyes, saw it while she was still a child. You dud not love her, you raped her: you did not caress her, you bit her. She was the thing in men’s souls that is never sated, the beast in every man’s jungle.”
This is a novel of the ‘God created this orbiting ball of dirt and dust and then turned his back’. The impotent ‘savior’ (the Baby Jesus) is a 600 pound colossus who can do nothing for himself. Stop the World. I wanna get off.