BODY by Harry Crews


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Since returning to fiction in 1986, after a ten-year layoff, tough-guy Crews has yet to regain his stride as an ace poet of the peckerwoods. And his latest novel, which does for bodybuilding what The Knockout Artist (1988) did for boxing, is no exception. All about rednecks at a Florida luxury hotel, it's The Beverly Hillbillies in Miami--a sure-fire sitcom hit but for its weird sex and kinky violence. The plot's simple and compact: Shereel Dupont, a world-class bodybuilder, is in Miami for two clays to compete in the Ms. Cosmos contest. The only problem is that Shereel (born Dorothy Turnipseed in Waycross, Georgia) has invited her rather colorful family down for the show. Russell ""Muscle"" Morgan, Shereel's trainer, instills in her the single-mindedness necessary to win, a discipline that threatens to become unhinged the moment the Turnipseed clan hits town in their beat-up trucks. Paterfamilias is Fonse Turnipseed, a scrawny chain-smoker attended by his two thick-tongued sons, all armed if not terribly dangerous. True menace arrives with Shereel's fiancÉ, Harry ""Nail Head"" Barnes, a crazy-mean Vietnam vet who relaxes by beating ""the shit out of people."" The obese mother and daughter, Earnestine and Earline, chomp bonbons while their boys scare the daylights out of the mincing hotel personnel. An inspired bit of slapstick--Earline administers CPR to a poolside flexer against his will--results in further low comedy, a sweaty love scene between the 300-pounder and her new beau, the body-perfect Billy ""Bat"" Bateman, a good ole boy with a thing for fat ladies. Rounding out the cast are the cartoon black gifts; a goose-stepping bunch of sisters named Starvella, Shavella, Jabella, and Vanella; a bodybuilding dynasty who've arrived to cheer on their oldest sister, Marvella, Shereel's only real rival for the ultimate crown. Crews hypes the main event with a sportscaster's lingo, so that when it comes it's a letdown in aesthetic terms. The contrived bleakness of the ending is the final indignity in a sloppy and uncertain fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1990
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster