Harry Crews died at home five years ago today. His well used body was done traveling in this lifetime. I asked his biographer, Ted Geltner, if he uttered any famous last words, perhaps one last barbaric yawp, or simply passed in his sleep in his comfy armchair, and he said "the closest thing to last words is that his ex-wife Sally was going to take him back to the hospital, and he told her no, and said 'I think it's time to get off this train.'" And what a train of thought it was! Make no mistake; Harry Crews did in fact leave us with many last words in the form of the glorious last lines of all of his books, and they're compiled here for your enjoyment.
"Reading all of these again reminded me of what a master of the craft Harry was, and why people should be reading these books again and forever. For those who haven't read the books, these will give a taste of the flavor of Harry's style, but if you've read the novels, it will bring back the sting he could deliver, and how he was able to earn each of these endings with the pages that came before," said Geltner. "Sometimes I went last line, sometimes last graph, or portion of, depending on which sounded better. It's such a cool list! The only one I didn't get was The Enthusiast, which was a limited run and he used much of it in a later book."
“Gospel Singer” (1968)
“But what the hell’s the story?”
“To hell with the story! Let somebody else get it.”
The cameraman slammed the truck into gear and they raced away from the ruined tent with Mirst and Avel singing at the top of their lungs.
“Naked in Garden Hills” (1969)
He had forgotten his nakedness, drunk as he was at the sight of food. He delicately touched the standing rib roast with his finger and put his finger in his mouth. The crowd burst into applause and cheers and sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” He fell upon the meat. The cage started a gentle ascent as Wes and the other eleven men of Garden Hills heaved on the rope.
“This Thing Don’t Lead to Heaven” (1970)
Utopia came out of a dim shadowed place by the wall. She stood looking for a long time and then with a slow secretive hand reached out and touched Jeremy’s naked foot.
“Karate is a Thing of the Spirit” (1971)
They spun out of the weeded lot in the microbus and roared into the traffic on U.S. 1. Nobody took any notice of them as they flew past the Sun ‘N Fun Motel. Mavis was following belt down the cement steps at the shallow end of the pool. Gaye Nell Odell waved to her. But Mavis never raised her eyes from where they were fastened to the back of Belt descending into the pool in front of her.
She took his hand. They were both looking straight ahead. She smiled. From far away, they heard the car-crusher slam on itself. The sound roared through the cars, reverberating under the mountain. Motes of dust rose in front of them and hung in the dead air.
“The Hawk Is Dying” (1973)
“Oh, God, she … she’s…” Betty’s mouth worked but nothing came out. Her own head sank, the ligaments standing in her neck, as though she would see what the hawk saw. The hawk left its perch in a surge of power that never saw a wing stroke the air, as though the air itself were sucking her toward her prey. As the hawk drove her talons through its back, the rabbit squealed in short startled bursts like metal cutting metal, and squealed and kept squealing.
Then: “Look!” Betty cried. “It’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”
The Gypsy’s Curse (1974)
I hear they’ve got a good gym at Raiford Prison. I’ll tell you one thing: I bet there’s not a swinging dick in the place with 20-inch arms.
A Feast of Snakes (1976)
As he was going down again, he saw, or thought he saw, his sister Beeder in her dirty white nightgown squatting off on the side of the hill with Lottie Mae, watching.
A Childhood (1978)
But there was nothing I could say. I had already done what, in Bacon County, was unthinkable. I had cursed the sun. And in Bacon County you don’t curse the sun or the rain or the land or God. They are all the same thing. To curse any of them is an ultimate blasphemy. I had known that three years ago, but in three years I had somehow managed to forget it. I stood there feeling how much I had left this place and these people, and at the same time knowing it would be impossible to leave them completely. Wherever I might go in the world, they would go with me.
All We Need of Hell (1987)
“See,” said Tump. “See how everything works out?”
“Yes,” said Duffy. “I do see.”
The Knockout Artist (1988)
The two of them stud for a moment, balanced in each other’s direct gaze. Then Eugene said: “How long it take you to get ready?”
“Ten minutes too long, boss man?”
“Just right,” Eugene said.
“Why are you doing this?” the man said.
“Because your head is up where I can see it. Because you wear white.”
“I don’t understand,” the man said.
“I don’t think understandin’ it’s ever been necessary,” Nail said.
“Scar Lover” (1992)
Walking beside him, Jonathan made the long wet sound that was Pete’s name. Pete only smiled and kept walking.
“Where Does One Go When There’s No Place Left to Go?” (1995)
“We’ll never be free of him,” said Duffy Deeter. “But sure as hell, he’ll never be free of us either.”
He kept on typing.
“The Mulching of America” (1995)
“Don’t trouble yourself, dear boy. It will all work out. The world grinds on.”
To no point whatsoever, Hickum saw that the fire in the hearth was, in fact, a fake, no fire at all, only colored light.
Stump saw her turn and stride away into the darkness, until the single eye that could still see was wrapped and wrapped again. A chant started up, but he couldn’t make out what it was. It grew dimmer and dimmer as layer after layer of satin wrapped his head. Finally he was standing in the dark in complete silence, and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
“An American Family” (2006)
Major said: “But not today, my dear. Not today. Come on, let’s go get Mack and cut that dreadful rope from over our dining table.” For the first time in a long, long time he felt her thin wonderful hand slide into his and give it a gentle squeeze.”=
“Climbing the Tower” (August 1977; Esquire)
All the way home to Gainesville, I felt the same tenuous diaphanous quality in the way I walked and what I did and what I said. Someone at that moment was climbing his tower, and I could only hope that he would not look down on me. But worse, much worse, I hoped that I would be spared being on the tower myself, because if I believe anything, I believe that the tower is waiting out there. I have no answer as to why it is out there, or even speculations about it, but out there somewhere, around some corner, or in some green meadow, or in some busy street it is. Waiting.
“Blood, Bone and Marrow: A Biography of Harry Crews” (Paperback; May 2017)
“We could do that,” he repeated, taking another drag and peering off into the window, the few rays of light reflecting off the smoke rising from his cigarette. “We’ll plan it all out and go up there real soon. Yeah, yeah, we should do that. We should do it. This time, we’ll do it right…”